By: Sean Cartell
SEC Digital Network
NASHVILLE – It might be easy to characterize Vanderbilt’s Cheyna Williams as a product of her environment. After all, the self-described “fighter” has consistently achieved at the high level set forth by her parents throughout her life.
Looking at the dramatic impact she has had on the Vanderbilt soccer team as only a sophomore, it would also be quite accurate to say that Williams’ collegiate environment has benefitted from her presence.
The sophomore forward helped the Commodores to their finest offensive season in 15 years in 2013 and posted 16 goals on the season, tying for second all-time on Vanderbilt’s single-season goal list.
“I just remember ending the season last year and being pretty frustrated,” Williams said. “I had a hip injury and wasn’t able to contribute the last four or give games of the season. I remembered how it felt to be sitting on the sidelines and not being able to do what I could. This spring, I had a completely different mindset. I wanted to do big things, and do anything I could to make that happen.”
But Williams’ determination and fire for success is nothing unique to this year. It all began at an early age when Wendell and Corinia Williams entered their children into soccer; Cheyna showed an immediate attachment to the sport.
“I’m the fourth out of five kids in my household and my parents started everyone out in soccer,” Williams said. “I was three when I started. I remember my older sister was picking daisies on the field and my brother was more interested in watching the birds in the air. I was really the only one who actually enjoyed it.”
And when you grow up in the Williams household, any avenue you decide to pursue is going to be done with full effort and attention.
“I call myself a fighter; I don’t give up,” Williams said. “I’ve learned that through my parents and the way that they raised me. They’ve always given me that mindset that if I’m going to do something, do it right and do it the best I can. The only way I can do that is if I fight. I feel like my parents definitely bring that character out in me.”
Williams wasn’t just a soccer player growing up. A three-sport athlete – Williams lettered in basketball, track and soccer– at Lovejoy High School in suburban Atlanta, Williams also likes to sing, calling Beyonce “my idol,” and participated in any number of activities during her youth.
“I grew up doing all kinds of things – dance, plays, whatever opportunities my parents gave me,” she said. “I enjoyed doing those things and did my best to stick with them. I wanted to always have an outlet no matter what.”
For all her varied interests, Williams’ first love was always soccer, a sport at which she thrived as a prep. At Lovejoy, Williams scored 103 goals over her first three years at the school, earning first-team All-Region honors each of her seasons and was tabbed the squad’s Offensive Player of the Year.
The patience, the hard work and the resolve required in the sport of soccer fit Williams’ personality perfectly.
“In soccer, normally there aren’t a lot of scores, whereas in basketball, there’s someone shooting a basket every 10-20 seconds,” she said. “In soccer, it makes it a lot more special. If you score, it means so much more. You have to fight to see results and it takes longer, but the results are worth it.”
A member of the National Honor Society in high school, Williams was drawn to Vanderbilt’s stature as a top academic institution and its potential to be a top soccer program.
“It was definitely the education here,” Williams said of her decision to attend Vanderbilt. “It’s outstanding. It’s hard, it’s not easy, but I knew that coming in. An education like this is hard to come by, along with the opportunity to play in the SEC. I wanted to stay closer to home so that my parents could come to more games and I just felt this was a good fit.”
The good fit is certainly supported by the numbers. Statistics show that Williams has tallied 22 career goals through her first two years in Nashville, which is tied for ninth all-time in a career at Vanderbilt. She finished the 2013 campaign with two three-goal games and two two-goal games. Her first career hat trick came against Milwaukee and she followed up with the same feat against Mississippi State.
Williams knows that, following her breakout sophomore season, she will have to continue to improve to be as dominant on the field. But it is a challenge that she welcomes.
“It has put a magnifying glass on me, that’s for sure,” she said. “It’s only going to get harder because there are teams that do know my number and are preparing for me. I know what’s expected of me and I don’t mind rising to the challenge. That’s where it becomes more about the tactical part of the game.”
While her individual accomplishments have certainly been impressive, Williams knows that there are bigger things ahead for the Vanderbilt program.
The Commodores have the potential to be one of the nation’s elite soccer teams, as Vanderbilt was the first dynasty in the sport in the history of the Southeastern Conference, winning the league’s first two crowns in 1993 and 1994, all while playing a style that its opponents feared.
Williams is confident that the Commodores, if they embrace and embody several key characteristics, can return to that apex.
“It’s going to take a lot of will and a lot more fight,” Williams said. “It’s not going to be easy – there are a lot of good teams and great players. It’s going to come down to passion and fight at the end of the day, and a will to win.”