Athleticism runs in Vanderbilt Soccer defender Madiya Harriott’s blood. Her parents Marissa and Roger Harriott played Division I sports, soccer and football respectively, during their time in college; they decided to let Harriott first get a taste for soccer when she was five years old.
At that age, she was a forward, and the sport gave her an opportunity to score goals, see her friends and last but not least, eat snacks at halftime.
But Harriott quickly moved from recreational soccer to more serious play.
“I played with my club team [Sunrise Sting] from when I was eight to when I went to college, so age 17. And my club was super competitive. All the girls around me were getting into college soccer, being recruited,” Harriott said.
By her sophomore year of high school, Harriott had verbally committed to play with the University of Kentucky.
“I liked [soccer] and wanted to stick with it. I couldn’t imagine myself stopping abruptly when I went to college, so I wanted to keep that going,” Harriott said.
Come Harriott’s senior year of high school, there was a coaching change at the University of Kentucky, and Harriott decided to reopen her recruitment. Not long after, she visited Vanderbilt.
Coach Darren Ambrose was still relatively new to Vanderbilt in 2015, and as the Commodores looked to catch up on recruiting, they came across Harriott.
“Madiya is an outgoing kid; she’s easy to talk to,” Coach Ambrose said. “I remember talking to her once, and she had these goals that she wanted to achieve. She was goal-oriented. And she would come [into] my office, and we would watch videos. And she’d be writing things down that she had to remember. She was very conscientious about how she went about preparing. She wanted to do well.”
“She’s always been a player that, in my opinion, is one of the toughest kids on the field. She’s not afraid of anybody, no matter how small she may be in stature. You can be a foot taller than her, and it just doesn’t matter. As far as defending, I’ve always felt that she’s one of the best individual defenders. She is tenacious as anyone I’ve ever coached.”
As for Harriott?
“What drew me in really was the academics, and I hadn’t really heard anything about Vanderbilt before. And my mom said, ‘They’re amazing. You have to at least give it a shot.’ I visited, and I really enjoyed the campus and the coaches. I liked the team and the academics,” Harriott said. “I think I committed that week.”
Unlike most of her Southeastern Conference (SEC) peers, Harriott has already played at the international level—an achievement many soccer players can only dream of.
Harriott’s first encounter with head coach Hue Menzies was at a club tournament when she was 15 years old. Menzies is the coach responsible for bringing the Jamaican National Team, fondly referred to as the Reggae Girlz, to their first World Cup in 2019.
“[Hue Menzies] was the head coach of Florida Kraze Krush, a team that I was playing against for my club team. He saw me playing [at a tournament] and was curious about my background. He saw my parents in the crowd and went to them asking about my nationality and their nationality. And my dad said that he was Jamaican. And [Menzies] was part of the Jamaican national team at the time, so he gave them his card. And he contacted me when the next tournament was, and he invited me.” Harriott said.
By 2016, Harriott was playing for the U17 Jamaican National Team, and she has continued to play with the U20 Jamaican National Team. And in January 2020, Harriott earned a coveted spot on the national team roster for the 2020 CONCACAF Women’s Olympic Qualifying Championships.
In addition to learning about the nuances of the game, Harriott’s involvement with the national team has given her the opportunity to get in touch with her Jamaican identity.
“It’s given me a chance to go and visit more often. I do have a lot of family there and there’s a lot of local girls on the team,” Harriott said. “There’s this popular saying: ‘Likkle but tallawah.’ It means we’re a little country, but we’re big in unity and togetherness, so our presence is going to be known when we talk about Jamaica. Every sport in Jamaica is taken with so much pride because we represent the small country that we are, and we want to be known in a bigger light.”
Getting acquainted with her Jamaican identity has also shed light on the role that the Reggae Girlz play in Jamaica. And for Harriott, it’s a humbling position to be in.
“We are role models for these girls. We are who they look up to. They want to be in our position, and we’re basically saying to them, ‘You can do anything you want to do. You can be here too.’”
Harriott plans on spending a fifth year with the Commodores, but the SEC is only the start of her soccer career.
“I want to go to the next level. I definitely want to either enter the [National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL)] draft or go somewhere overseas to play professionally, and then stay with the Jamaican national team. My final goal is to play with Jamaica in the [FIFA Women’s] World Cup in 2023.”