As final exams winded down at Florida State University last week, many students were likely ready to make the long trek home for the holidays. Although it’s probably a safe bet it didn’t take them over 20 hours in a plane to get there.
National Soccer Coaches Association of America on Sunday.
LARRY NOVEY PHOTO
That’s how long it takes Tokyo native and Florida State soccer star Mami Yamaguchi.
“I don’t know but I think I did OK,” Yamaguchi said about her final exams during a telephone interview with The Japan Times on Friday from the Tallahassee, Fla. campus. “But I’m done now so I feel great. I’m just excited to go home.
“I went during the summer but at that time I was playing for my country so I couldn’t go home, so it’s not like saying I went home. I was in Japan but I didn’t go home.”
If there’s anybody that deserves a vacation it’s the Seminoles’ junior dynamo.
This season Yamaguchi has emerged as one of the elite players in college soccer, racking up 24 goals (second in the nation) 18 assists and 66 points, all single-season school records.
She is currently FSU’s all-time career leader in assists (30) and ranks second in points (94) and goals (32).
Yamaguchi also set the school record for points in league play (15) and is the 2007 ACC Offensive Player of the Year and a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy, which is awarded to the top collegiate player in the United States. She was also announced as a First-Team All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and joined teammates Becky Edwards and Amanda DaCosta on the All-Southeast Region Team.
She’s also become something of an Internet sensation, with a video of her doing ball tricks having garnered over 10,000 hits on You Tube.
“Last spring we were training and we were just bored and one of my teammates said ‘I’m going to put you on You Tube, you should do tricks,’ ” Yamaguchi said. “I like doing tricks. It’s so much fun. It’s so cool.”
In Japan, Yamaguchi attended high school at Tokyo Metropolitan Toyotama and is a part of the national program. In 2004, she helped lead Japan to the Phillips Lightning Invitational Tournament title and also scored six goals versus Malaysia in the Asian Football Championships held in China in 2004.
Yamaguchi also played for Nippon Television Beleza, one of the top club teams in Japan.
“It’s the best club team in Japan,” Yamaguchi said. “Most players play for the national team. But even if you play for the national team you might have to sit on the bench to support. My club team was very, very competitive.”
Citing an interest in the United States, in 2005 Yamaguchi left everything she knew and moved over 15,000 km away to attend college in an entirely new culture in a language she didn’t understand.
“When I was younger I always wanted to come to the U.S.,” Yamaguchi said. “Maybe even if I wasn’t playing soccer I would be interested in coming to the United States.
So I started to look on Web sites to find a good soccer college. I used all resources like books and online. My Dad (Koji) can speak English so he helped me a lot.
“I was looking at UCLA, North Carolina, Santa Clara and I found FSU. Plus I like warm weather.”
She says it was her father who helped her make a decision.
“My dad asked me ‘what’s your focus, what’s your goal,’ and then Florida State came up,” Yamaguchi said. “One year before I came here I visited FSU and I did a soccer camp and was so impressed by the facilities and the school.”
Her path to FSU seemed to hit a snag when then-head coach Patrick Baker left to become the head coach at Georgia in December of 2004.
“I was keeping in contact with coach Baker and then he moved and I was like ‘oh my gosh!’ ” Yamaguchi said. “But Mark (head coach Mark Krikorian) e-mailed me and he knew about me because I was playing for the (Japan) Under-19 national team and Mark was the coach for the U.S. Under-19 team and we played against each other. So that made it easy. He knew my playing style. He knew me. I was so lucky that Mark came to FSU.”
When she arrived in the United States the most immediate challenge she faced was the language barrier. Yamaguchi had studied English in junior high and high school, but said her classes never communicated in English.
“When I came here I couldn’t speak English at all,” Yamaguchi said. “So I used notepads to communicate because it was easier for me to write it down and I could read better than speaking or listening.”
She eventually got better, to the point that she seems to speak the language comfortably, and was even named to the ’05-06 ACC Academic Honor Roll for her academic work.
“At first I was taking easy classes like math,” she said. “The thing is, I would make mistakes if I didn’t understand the question. But we have a big academic support system here. I have a tutor. They helped me a lot. Without tutoring I wouldn’t have gotten that honor.”
She’s racked up the honors on the field as well, which she credits to the chemistry she has with her team.
“I like our soccer style, keeping possession and getting the ball to each other, because it fits to my style,” Yamaguchi said. “We have really good balance because I’m a technical player and Amanda (DaCosta) is good at dribbling and Sara (Wagenfuhr) is physical and fast and Erika (Sutton) is athletic and such a good player. We have balance and everyone plays for each other. I’m just one of them.”
This season Yamaguchi and her teammates earned their third consecutive trip to the Women’s College Cup and the school’s first-ever berth in the national championship game.
With her home thousands of miles away Yamaguchi tries to stay in contact with her family as much as she can, something that didn’t change during the NCAA Tournament.
“My family is pretty busy,” Yamaguchi said. “So sometimes, maybe once a week or so, I try to call them or they will be on Skype.
“During the tournament my mom called me after the games. For the final my family woke up at 4 o’clock (a.m.) and they listened on gametracker because they don’t have the channel in Japan.”
The Seminoles lost the final 2-0 to USC. However with Yamaguchi, DaCosta, and Wagenfuhr among others with eligibity remaining, FSU may get a second shot at the national title.
“After the game we were really disappointed because we had really good team chemistry,” Yamaguchi said. “The thing is, we couldn’t play our soccer. We didn’t mind if we lost if we played our best soccer. But we couldn’t. I don’t know why.
“I was so upset but I have next year. So we are saying that we are going to be champions next year for sure. Hopefully. I’m excited for next year already.”
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