After redshirting as a freshman, then starting at right back in 2012 and stepping in at sweeper last season, junior Michelle Yasutake comes into the 2014 campaign as the unquestioned leader of the defense for head coach Brian McManus’ UC San Diego women’s soccer team. McManus, who has directed seven NCAA championship squads at UCSD, has been impressed with Yasutake’s progress. “A lot of players would have let things slide as a redshirt, but Michelle buckled down, did the work, and came back as a starter on a team that finished second in the nation,” says McManus. “She did a tremendous job keeping things organized when we moved her to sweeper last year, particularly considering that she had two freshmen playing on either side. She’s a vocal team leader on the field, and we are expecting a lot from her this fall.” Now well into preseason training camp, the 5-foot-5 Pleasant Hill native offered her views on the failure to make last year’s postseason, switching positions, and this year’s Triton roster.
Q: One week into preseason camp, what are some of the impressions you’ve had of the 2014 Triton women’s soccer team?
YASUTAKE: The team so far is looking solid. The amount of talent we have this year is much greater than we’ve had in the past, and the vibe throughout the first week has been really positive. All of the returners are a year stronger and a year smarter, and that added level of confidence is really showing in their game. As for the freshmen, they are all extremely smart and skilled, and their presence has created a great, competitive atmosphere on the field. All in all, I am confident in the team we have put together this year, and excited to see what we can do.
Q: Compared to previous seasons, how “ready” were you for training camp? How ready was the team as a whole?
YASUTAKE: For me, it’s always hard to tell how ready I am until I am out on the field with my team. I came into camp with a couple of minor injuries this year, which was not ideal, but I have been working hard all week to make sure I am ready when the first game comes around. As for the team, everyone is looking really fit. Brian definitely pushed the team to the limit this week, and everyone responded really well to the pressure.
Q: What’s the toughest thing about the preseason?
YASUTAKE: I think the toughest thing about the preseason is staying mentally strong. Waking up at 6 a.m. every morning and the endless running during double days really starts to take its toll on your mind and body. It becomes a serious mental battle just to get yourself up and out onto the field in the morning. But I think that’s one of the most important parts of preseason, especially for the freshmen. It teaches everyone to be mentally tough on the field and to push through the fatigue, no matter how tired and dead you may be.
Q: Not making the NCAA playoffs last year was obviously a disappointment. How did you feel at the end of the 2013 season, and have last year’s results had any impact on the approach of this year’s team?
YASUTAKE: Coming off of last season, clearly, I was very upset. As a defender, I took every single loss and goal against extremely hard, and I blamed myself for a lot of our shortcomings last year. That being said, following last season, I think we all did a lot of reflection into where we went wrong, personally and as a team, and we gained a lot of perspective into how we can change to better ourselves and this program. There has been a lot of talk over the last year regarding the legacy of UCSD Women’s Soccer, and we are all back this season with a whole new attitude to prove ourselves worthy of wearing that name on our jerseys.
Q: As a sophomore last year, you were moved from right back to sweeper. How difficult was that change, and how well do you think you handled it?
YASUTAKE: Initially, the switch was not easy. It took me a couple of games to learn my spacing and get used to playing such a different position. I am the type of player who likes to get involved in the attack, and it was very hard for me to learn the discipline that this position requires. However, once I got settled, I was able to assume a much larger role in leadership than I have had in the past. I think that was crucial considering how many young players we had on the field.
Q: Tell us a little about your teammates on the back line, and the keys to being successful as a unit.
YASUTAKE: As of right now, it is still unclear who the back line is going to consist of this year, or even if I will be playing in the middle or on the outside. For any back line to be successful though, I believe the most important things to have are communication and trust. If you do not have trust in those that are playing around you, it is not only going to affect them, but it is going to negatively affect your game because you are going to be wasting too much energy worrying about things that are out of your control.
Q: How helpful is it having an experienced goalkeeper like Kelcie Brodsky behind you? What kind of communication do you typically have with her during the run of the game?
YASUTAKE: I have been playing with Kelcie since her freshman year here and since that time, she has grown a lot as a player. As a defender, having complete confidence in your goalie is key. It is a reassuring feeling knowing I have Kelcie backing me up whenever I make a mistake. As far as communication goes, Kelcie is not the most vocal player, but she will always make sure that everyone is marked up and that the defense is running smoothly.
Q: Outside of soccer, tell us something we would be surprised to know about you.
YASUTAKE: My favorite hobby is ceramics, and if I could be outdoors 24/7, I would. Also, I am a distant relative of the famous Hawaiian surfer/swimmer Duke Kahanamoku.
Previous Triton Q&A Features
Sabrina Pimentel (Women's Track & Field) April 25, 2014
Nick La Face (Baseball) April 3, 2014
Emily McQuaid (Softball) March 27, 2014
Sarah Lizotte (Women's Water Polo) March 19, 2014
Nicholas Korth (Men's Swimming) March 2, 2014
Megan Perry (Women's Basketball) January 13, 2014
Sandy Hon (Women's Swimming) December 30, 2013
Drew Dyer (Men's Basketball) November 26, 2013
Kameron Cooper (Women's Volleyball) October 28, 2013
Rachel Leslie (Women's Soccer) October 9, 2013
Marie Diaz (Women's Cross Country/Track & Field) October 1, 2013
Joe Dietrich (Men's Water Polo) September 2, 2013
Josh Cohen (Men's Soccer) August 23, 2013
Sara McCutchan (Women's Volleyball) August 9, 2013
Kellen Levy (Men's Cross Country/Track & Field) July 26, 2013
Izzy Pozurama (Women's Soccer) July 8, 2013
Colin Truex (Women's Crew Head Coach) June 28, 2013