Mount Holyoke Meets Japan for Soccer Friendly

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass. (March 31, 2008) - At the end of a soccer match it is customary for the opposing teams to line up single file, and pass by each other tapping hands, intoning "good game." The ritual took place, with a slight difference, after a competition between Mount Holyoke and a team of Japanese collegiate all-stars on March 29. As they passed, each Japanese player presented one of their American counterparts with a small gift.

Seeing this coming, some of the Mount Holyoke women turned to Coach Kanae Haneishi during the final minutes of the second half for some instruction, not on how to move the ball toward the opponent's net, but on how to say "thank you very much" in Japanese. The cascading expressions of "domo arigato" brought the 2-2 contest to a close.

Haneishi, who is finishing her first year as head soccer coach at Mount Holyoke, helped create what she calls the "bridge for women's soccer" that has brought a traveling team from her native Japan to tour the United States for a series of exhibition games in each of the last five years.

"In Japan, the sports society is still pretty much a male-dominated world," said Haneishi. She considers herself very lucky to have come to the University of Memphis on a soccer scholarship. Now, in addition to coaching, Haneishi is captain of the New York Magic, a semiprofessional team in a league that ranges from Washington, DC, to Toronto.

The bridge games are a way to expose Japanese women to the types of facilities and support available to female athletes in this country. This year's squad played against Hofstra, Long Island University, and Iona College before coming to South Hadley to play back-to-back games against UMass and Mount Holyoke on a sunny yet bone -chillingly cold afternoon.

The competition also gave Haneishi an opportunity to showcase a style of play she wants her Mount Holyoke team to learn from as she makes her mark on the soccer program. "Japanese usually play the ball on the ground, use short passes a lot, and play more as a team," said Haneishi, adding that they make up for being smaller in size by concentrating on ball-handling skills and teamwork. "Americans play a more dynamic soccer," she said, often relying on their size to outrun their opponents.

The matchup against Mount Holyoke came directly after the Japanese team took a 4-0 loss in a game against the UMass women. But they seemed to relish the test of endurance. The goalie, 19-year-old Reiko Yoshida, said the pace of the trip has been hectic yet rewarding, with sightseeing in the mornings and games in the afternoons. "I have met many new people and made many new friends," she said.

The coach of the Japanese team, Miyuki Kobayashi, studied in the United States received degrees in sports psychology from the State University of New York at Oswego and from Auburn University in Alabama. She now works in a Tokyo employment agency that helps find careers for former professional athletes.

She and Haneishi have been friends for many years and began this program together. "In Japan women's sports are not popular," Kobayashi said. "If you play soccer, you are told you are not a woman."

Mount Holyoke goalie and cocaptain, Elaine Harvey '10, was among those shivering on the sidelines during the final minutes of the recent game. She is very keen on "using soccer as a tool for intercultural learning," she said. Watching the Japanese players running up and down the field after almost 160 minutes of play, Harvey added, "I feel like I want to give them hugs because they are so tired."

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