Playing Against the Odds

By: Katie Betz, betzka@mnstate.edu

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My job is [to] score. I don’t have to defend a lot, but I need to score,” said Tomomi Nishihara, a 21-year-old senior MSUM soccer player.

Tomomi Nishihara usually plays center forward or wide forward. She hails from the city of Okayama in western Japan. Two years ago, during advising, she was told MSUM had a soccer team. She decided to try out.

Nishihara, an athletic training major, decided to stay at MSUM through her senior year. Nishihara’s dream is to become an athletic trainer, and universities in Japan do not offer that major. She chose MSUM because her teacher in high school recommended it.

In high school, an injury to her Achilles tendon changed Nishihara’s trajectory. Her plan had been to become a professional soccer player, but because of her injury she met a physical therapist who inspired her to pursue athletic training.

Playing with her damaged Achilles tendon is one of the challenges Nishihara surmounts to play on the team.

“I am doing some training, some rehab still. Like every day I do something with my ankle and if I don’t do that it is going to be hard. If I do it, I can play soccer,” Nishihara said.

She has been kicking a soccer ball around since she was five years old and played on a team since she was eight. Nishihara’s older brother also played soccer, and her mom would bring her along to the soccer field. She has two older brothers back in Japan; her oldest brother is a scientist and the other does programming.

Nishihara said that soccer is “totally different” in the United States compared to Japan. She explained that, in Japan, soccer players have a stronger focus on technique and are less aggressive. Soccer players in the U.S. are more physical, in Nishihara’s opinion.

“Playing soccer here was so fun, but also it’s difficult to play soccer here for the first time,” Nishihara said. “Because everything was new to me and my English was so bad last year, I could not understand everything. But this year is [my] second year … I feel like I am [enjoying it] right now [and] my team.”

Nishihara has scored two goals so far this year. She explained that she likes scoring, but she loves playing a team sport. She enjoys making opportunities for her teammates to score, and she calls this the best thing about soccer.

Nishihara said she loves soccer, and could not imagine life without it. Her dream job is to be an athletic trainer for a professional soccer team in Japan.

Coach Christie Kopietz said that she assigned Nishihara to her position because of her technical ability.

“She’s very, very technical, which means she’s really good at having the ball at her feet and very good at dribbling, [which] makes it difficult for defenders to take the ball from her,” Kopietz said. “Plus she has very good vision, so she can see where needs to go next quickly and she’s pretty dangerous in front of the goal because of the technical ability she has.”

Kopietz said that Nishihara’s different cultural experience and hard work adds to the team.

“She’s just delightful,” Kopietz said.

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