Kicking It Back with Girls’ Soccer’s Two-Time Leading Goal Scorer

Discussing a captain’s role, college recruiting, and favorite memories with senior and captain of the Stuyvesant girls’ soccer team, Aki Yamaguchi.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Cover Image
By Aki Yamaguchi

Height: 5’1.5”

Eye color: Brown

Hair color: Brown (because I dyed it—originally was black)

Birthday: 10/16/2003

1. When did you start playing soccer?

I started playing soccer recreationally when I was in preschool—living in Westchester—and my parents signed me up for a local team. Once I moved to Manhattan, I joined the West Side Soccer League. I played there for a couple of years until third grade, when I joined the Manhattan Soccer Club (MSC). I’ve actually been on the same team at MSC with the same people since then.

2. What position do you play? Are there any skills you want to improve on?

I play two different positions. For high school, I played wing forward, and then last year, I started playing wherever the team needed me—so right or center midfield. I always had to make sure that, as captain, I was doing what the team needed. I had to be a leader on the field, making sure we pushed up or dropped back, while keeping calm on the ball. Even if I was freaking out on the field, I had to keep my composure so that my teammates felt comfortable and confident. For MSC, I play the center offensive and defensive midfield. I’ve always had to work on being more open for my teammates. I need to make myself an option. Also, when I’m at the goal, I have to be more consistent with my shot. You always have to make the most of every opportunity on the field.

3. How has your experience on the Stuyvesant soccer team been?

I loved playing soccer on the Stuy team, so I’m really sad that we don’t have a season. In freshman year, I really wanted to play on the team, but my parents didn’t want me to sacrifice my grades for a subpar high school team. But, I have absolutely no regrets. I’m glad I pushed back on my parents as I’ve met some of my best friends through soccer. I met my best friend freshman year at practice, and we’ve been close ever since. You spend so much time with upperclassmen that it’s nice to see them in the hall or have a conversation. Actually, one of our alumni gave me a tour of Cornell when I went to visit. The underclassmen are also great to talk to, of course.

4. How has being captain changed your outlook on the game?

As captain, you have to think about everyone on the team. You can’t just think about your own performance. Soccer is a team sport for a reason: you always need the support of your teammates. Last year, we had problems with chemistry. It was my job as the captain to resolve those issues. If a player is having a hard time, it’s my job to check on them. One freshman made a bad decision last season on the field during her first game, and she was really upset, so I had to comfort her and lift her back up. Small things like that go really far.

5. How do you deal with schoolwork and soccer? Any tips?

I’ve been playing club soccer since third grade, so I’ve always had to balance school with soccer. I’ve gotten into a rhythm with balancing them. The biggest thing is taking advantage of your free time. If you have a free period or extra time before practice, do work. I have practice from 7:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., and I don’t get home until 10:00 p.m. If I don’t start my work early, then I don’t sleep until 1:00 in the morning.

6. How is your recruitment process going? What are your biggest struggles?

I started my process when I was a freshman in high school. I went to a tournament in San Diego, and then that same summer, I went to a Dartmouth ID camp, where a bunch of coaches watch you and hopefully like you. Last fall season, my club team won two major tournaments, so we gained some credit to our name. We had a lot of coaches at our games and even one game where our entire sideline was just coaches. It’s hard to play your best with all that pressure. My biggest struggle is that, with COVID-19, I lost my spring season, which is said to be the most important time period for Division III recruits. I’m optimistic that I can get some film to send to coaches from my scrimmages this season.

7. What is your proudest memory?

On the Stuy team, I was able to start the first game of the season my freshman year. I was super nervous because I was starting over girls older than me. Mr. Hugh Francis, our coach, told me he wouldn’t play me if he didn’t think I was ready. I ended up scoring the first goal of the season, and it was nice to feel reassured that I deserved to play that game.

8. What is your favorite memory?

There are countless memories. I love hanging out with the girls and even the boys on the boys’ team. Taking the bus to the games, blasting music, and getting food after practice are all things I’m going to miss. I remember it was pouring during one of our first practices. We were doing our ab workout, and the song “Send Me On Your Way” from “Ice Age” came on and we all started laughing and singing. I was running around recording everyone, and it was just a good time.

Drink of Choice: Coca-Cola

Favorite food: All food, but I like Filipino and Japanese food.

Motto to live by: You miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

Fun fact: “Aki” means Autumn in Japanese, which is the season I was born in.