Written by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
Edited by: Matt Shock (@shockwave_music)
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Over the last six years or so, NCAA Division III soccer has become a large part of my life. From covering both the men's and women's soccer programs during my undergrad years at Otterbein University to doing the same since being hired as a broadcaster at Kenyon College back in 2013, I have been fortunate to see my fair share of talent. Even though Division III soccer may not receive the limelight of higher divisions or the national recognition that they deserve, there is more than a plethora of skill that deserves a shot at the next level.
After earning the first ever North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament title in program history, the 2014 Kenyon College Men's Soccer team and senior midfielder, Rei Mitsuyama, set out on a journey to capture a NCAA Championship for Gambier. The journey may have ended too soon in the round of 16 versus Ohio Wesleyan, but for the senior captain from Natick, Massachusetts, all was not lost.
Earlier this week, the Kenyon College Athletics website reported that during an impressive run in the national tournament for the Lords, Mitsuyama caught the eye of the scouting staff for the Columbus Crew SC of Major League Soccer. On December 14, Mitsuyama will be attending and participating in the Columbus Crew soccer combine at Ohio State University's Woody Hayes Athletic Center in Columbus, Ohio. For a guy that only tallied three goals and one lone assist on the season, the invitation may seem interesting, but it would only seem that way if you never watched Rei play.
In an offense that only averages 50-60 minutes of playing time per game for it's starting forwards and midfielders, Mitsuyama averaged an absurd 72 minutes per game in 2014. Not only is that a testament to the leadership that Mitsuyama possesses, but it is also an example of the skill that he brings to the pitch. As important as each role is on the field, the midfielders are what I consider the generals of the pitch. They don't get the credit for the big save or even the game-winning goal, but a good midfielder can set up the play and guide the offense to where it needs to be. Just like any other sport, the box score in soccer only means so much because it is the structure and artwork in the middle that leads to those stats.
Mitsuyama also brought home some personal hardware this season as he earned a spot on the 2014 Capital One Academic All-District VII team as well as the All-North Coast Athletic Conference first team. Coming from someone that has seen the stiff competition that exists in all of Division III soccer, those accolades are nothing to scoff at. Don't get me wrong, the 2014 Kenyon Lords may have been the most talented soccer team that I have ever seen at the Division III level, but to consistently bring talent together and play like a cohesive unit, you have to contain solid leadership, and Rei has done nothing but embody that.
When I broadcasted my first Lords' soccer game back in the fall of 2013, I knew there was something special with this team. While each individual player brought something special to the team, Mitsuyama brought the talent and consistency that was needed to compete in the national tournament, and that they did. Some players will have good and bad games, but over the last two seasons, I don't think I've ever seen Rei play a bad game. He is always the first one to a loose ball and the last one to give up on a play. He is the true example of sportsmanship and leadership and I can understand why the Crew want to take a look at him. A few years ago, I was told that talent will only get you so far, while being a good person and leader will take you the rest of the way. I believe that philosophy also translates to any sport, and especially soccer, because if your team doesn't have an upstanding athlete like Mitsuyama, the TEAM will struggle that much more to succeed.
On behalf of 'Our Sports Report', we want to congratulate Rei Mitsuyama on this wonderful opportunity to show Major League Soccer what you and Kenyon Soccer is made of. Just because of the Division III status, most people will discount any athlete's chances at the next level, but for anyone that has enjoyed Mitsuyama's talents over the last four years in Gambier, you know that the Massachusetts-native has what it takes, now it is time for him to show the rest of the world what he can do. Best of luck and keep up the good work, Rei!