Japan Native Is Comeback Kid After Losing Year To Injury
For Hiroko Sogabe, sophomore midfielder for the Northwest College women’s soccer team, the road from Kamakura, Japan to Trapper Field was not without its obstacles.
Like most players at the collegiate level, “Hiro,” as she’s known to her teammates, began playing soccer at a young age.
“My older brother played soccer, so I started playing soccer too,” said Sogabe, 23.
By middle school, after realizing she had a talent for the game, she began dreaming of playing in the United States one day. Her family encouraged her in the pursuit, and were instrumental in helping Sogabe realize her dream. But it wouldn’t come cheap.
To play in the states, Sogabe “ended up having to work for two years to save up money so that she could actually come and do it,” said Lady Trappers head coach Jessica Lum. “For that reason, it took her longer to realize her dream, it’s why she was a little older when she finally got here.”
Realizing that the schools she was interested in most likely didn’t recruit in Japan, Sogabe had to make the first move, reaching out to a number of different schools to generate interest.
“I sent 50 emails out to coaches,” Sogabe said. “Twenty-five teams sent me a reply, and I talked to many coaches about getting a scholarship. I wanted an education, so I chose here.”
Former NWC head coach Rob Hill liked what he saw, and recruited Sogabe to become a Lady Trapper.
“Hiroko’s a very technically skilled player. That’s part of what she brings to our team,” Lum said. “She has a good knowledge of the game, she sees the field fairly well. Her technical skills are strong and, from what I understand, she was the strongest player technically on the team last year. They were really counting on her.”
When Sogabe arrived on the NWC campus last year — realizing her dream after years of hard work on and off the pitch — expectations were high. Her skill set had her poised to make an immediate contribution to the team.
And then the dream became a nightmare. “
... In a pre-season scrimmage, the very first of the season, she injures herself. It turns out to be her ACL (anterior cruciate ligament), which is something you just don’t come back from right away,” Lum explained.
Lum said ACL injuries are one of the most common injuries for women athletes, especially soccer players. Sogabe had yet to suit up for a regular season game, and just like that, her season was finished.
“That was crushing for her, as you can imagine,” Lum said. “So now she’s far from home, not sure what she should do. She called her mom really upset, felt like her dream was over and she wouldn’t be able to play.”
Sogabe’s mom told her she needed to think of what was best for the team, not just for herself. She was also nervous about the surgery, but after thinking on it, she decided to get the surgery and come back to NWC. In order to redshirt, Sogabe had to remain enrolled as a full-time student, so she elected to have the surgery here and began physical rehabilitation.
“Towards the end of spring last year, she was back on the field, not 100 percent, but able to start playing again,” Lum said.
Sogabe went home to Japan for the summer and came back before the start of practice in August.
“I was very happy to be able to come back here,” Sogabe said. “I really like the people here; they’ve been very kind to me. And the school has been a good education — the teachers are really good.”
Lum picked her up at the airport, and was struck by the young player’s excitement and enthusiasm. “I wasn’t sure she’d remember me, because I had only met her once,” Lum explained. “But she was waiting on the curb in Cody, and as soon as I drove up, she literally jumped up, she was so excited and had a huge smile on her face. She was just so positive and excited to be here.”
“Her flight had been delayed, so it had taken her a couple of days to get here, but she was just like, ‘I’m so glad to be in Wyoming, I missed it so much!’” Lum recalled. “That, for me, just encapsulates who she is as a person.”
That excitement hasn’t waned, despite the Lady Trappers having to endure a bit of a rebuilding year. Lum said Sogabe is a constant source of support and encouragement to her teammates, and is rarely without a trademark smile on her face.
“I think Hiroko is very resilient, very determined,” Lum said. “The energy that she brings to our team is really positive. She’s very competitive too, she works hard and is out there to take the game seriously. She’s just a really positive influence on our team.”
As for the future, Sogabe is hoping to earn a scholarship to a university. But for the time being, she’s enjoying her time with her teammates and coach. “I like Jess [Lum], she tries to connect with everyone,” Sogabe said. “And I enjoy playing with this team — they are always trying. It’s fun.