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Wake Forest Men’s Soccer Interview: Hosei Kijima

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After an unforgettable night at Spry, I caught up with Hosei Kijima on the heels of his first—and second—collegiate goals.

Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

As the clock ran down to 5 minutes, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons were looking for a goal at home to salvage something against the Boston College Eagles. The Eagles were giving the Deacs the ride of a lifetime, playing a physical and committed 85 minutes that saw them leading the then 6th ranked Deacs by a goal in Winston-Salem. Wake had a corner which would likely be their only route back into the game with such little time left, especially considering how well BC was possessing the ball. As Stefan Sigurdarson headed his clearance only as far as the top of the area, an unlikely hero emerged for Wake, with the Deac at the top of the box smashing it off the bounce and into the net to tie the game. Very few thought they’d see his name on the scoresheet in this game, but, strangely, Hosei Kijima was absolutely sure that this moment was coming:

“This is actually a crazy story. So the day before the game I was sitting with our captain Nico Benalcazar at the Pit, and I specifically remember telling him that I was going to score a volley in the game the next day. I told my roommates too, Ryan Fessler and Nico Mancilla, ‘You’re gonna see I’m gonna score a volley tomorrow.’ As the second half went on I didn’t see a lot of chances of it, and I was thinking in my head as well that I was waiting for this volley. As the corner came up and the number 23 for Boston College headed it up, it was very seamless, it was a result of the hard work that I put in during those training sessions, I practiced volleys the whole week. It was a perfect hit, there was a little bit of luck there too, but it went in.”

Since his arrival at Wake, Hosei has mostly appeared as a substitute, and usually at right back. But with several key departures between the fall and the spring season, as well as an injury to Takuma Suzuki in the BC game, Kijima was forced into a spot that he had hardly ever played in at the collegiate level, if at all. Kijima played all 45 minutes of the second half in the middle of the field with Jake Swallen. But for Hosei, this is exactly the position he wants to be in: “When I came [to Wake] I didn’t really have a certain position, back in high school my coach just put me everywhere as well, so I think that kind of helped me throughout this season and last season with Covid. In terms of adapting, I mean in training I try my best to absorb what the coaches are saying, as well as the other midfield players so I can learn each position. The mentality for me is always to be ready to play any position. I didn’t really expect to play right wing against Davidson, but I did, and obviously with the injury to Takuma [Suzuki] I had to play in the middle and a little on the right wing. To be honest I think it’s my only strength, to be able to play most positions on the field, so I think that really helps us, especially given the numbers here. I think as long as I am playing football it will be my obsession. ”

Obviously Kijima has more strengths than he is letting on, but his role at present is one of a utility player. And it is an important one for this team considering the injuries and departures it has suffered, and a role that he feels motivated to fulfill: “I just try to do my best to play for [the injured players], and to do my best for the guys that can’t play. I want to be that person to rely on so that we can win these important games like we did against Boston College, so I can make those guys happy and see them smile.” This was a game that the Deacs wanted badly, especially given the way it had played out to that point. The Eagles were playing a very physical and feisty game with the Deacs, chock full of jawing and shoving between players, including a scuffle that nearly every player on the field became involved in. “Our team relies more on the tactical and technical side of the game, so obviously, you know, if we encounter a physical team it takes a little while for us to fight back and get a little bit of that feistiness, and give them a taste of their own medicine a little bit,” Kijima said of Wake’s struggles with the Eagles. “But as a team I think we did well, we worked hard to win the ball back when we lost it, to win our 50/50s and our one on one battles. It led to the comeback.”

I was amazed by Hosei’s premonition of the goal and asked him about what he thought influenced his belief that he would score. Aside from confidence and a feeling of destiny after his prediction, he felt he needed to score out of a sense of obligation. “I knew that I had to step up. Losing 2-1, you know I felt like the second goal was my fault a little bit so I thought I had to make up for it, and obviously the injured guys and the guys who couldn’t play were hoping for something, a miracle to happen, and I felt like I had to make something happen and I was able to do it.”

From that point, the final score seemed to be a certainty for the Deacs. “The whole team, their energy just shot up to the sky, through the roof. Everyone’s adrenaline was pumping and the atmosphere of the game totally changed with the fans just going crazy. Tying it 2-2 in the last 5 minutes, you know there’s nothing better than that. And as Coach said in his interview, after the second goal he knew we were going to win the game, and I think that really showed in the players’ movements and mindsets after that goal.” Almost as soon as he had scored the first one, Hosei found himself in a position to score another. “Once Cristian [Escribano] chipped the ball to David [Wrona], there was a big space in front of the back line, and the other midfielder Jake [Swallen] wasn’t going, so I thought I should trail back, make a late run to kind of catch them off guard.” Although Hosei didn’t predict this one beforehand, he felt just as confident that he would score the second as well: “I exploited their space, and once it came to my left foot everyone was ball watching, so when David cut it back to me, I saw every defender and the goalkeeper just shifting to my left, and my right side was wide open on the post, so I just slotted it with my left foot and I knew it was going in.”

Wild celebrations ensued, with Kijima sprinting down the endline and jumping into the stands, then, for the second time, looking at the camera and shushing. While this may have appeared to have been a message to the BC team or just an instinctive motion by a player in a state of pure elation, Kijima explained the deeper meaning behind this celebration for him: “Yeah so a couple people messaged me the next day that it was kind of weird to shush at a home game, but obviously it wasn’t for the fans I appreciate their support, it was for all the haters of the Wake Soccer Team and of myself personally. I’ve encountered a lot of racism and hate in terms of football. I’ve never scored such a big goal so I wanted to dedicate that big goal to those haters, and it really felt good. Now that I think about it, it is a little weird to shush at home, but now that I explain it I hope people understand.”

And just like that, Wake and Kijima turned 2-1 into 3-2 and stole a win against BC. To him, it’s a night that will live on in the memory: “I’m really still comprehending what happened that night. I’ve never felt such joy in my life. I had goosebumps on my whole body, my adrenaline was pumping, it was a night I’ll never forget. To get two goals in five minutes, nobody expected that either, I was never a starting player in the fall, I came in the spring last year and played a little bit but nobody thought I’d get a moment like this against a rival. They beat us 2-1 in 2019, and I had that in my mind as well and I just couldn’t let that happen again for the program and the family.”

This was a huge win for a team that has to approach things in a different way than they did in the fall. “Younger players now are trying to step up into roles and positions because of the loss of certain players that played those positions that could make a difference and could win games for us, but they’re not here, so somebody else has to do it. We have a very young team this year and I think we have this very motivated mentality and this attitude for each player that we want to step up and come close to replacing these professional players,” Kijima said. With North Carolina State coming to Winston over the weekend, the goal and the motivation for Wake is clear: “The motivation for me at least is in the number of players we have. If we can beat these ACC teams with the amount of players we have, the amount of subs that we have, I think each win would be very big. I think we’ll all feel accomplished in each win, it will be a big motivating factor for each player short term and long term, as well as for the coaches. It’s a big motivating factor for the program to grow in the present and in the future. So, yeah, I’m excited to play.”

Wake returns to action on Saturday at 6 PM at Spry against the NC State Wolfpack.