“YO-SHI!” steals the show at ToC Finals

At last month’s Tennis on Campus National Championship in Orlando, Michigan found an unexpected opponent on the opposite side of the net, a surging University of California Irvine (UCI) squad with a raucous fan base growing by the minute. The underdog team had surprised everyone with an undefeated streak to the Gold championship bracket, especially a confident club from Minnesota.Yoshi T

In the Gold bracket semi-final, Minnesota held a comfortable lead in the overall match and in women’s doubles. Trailing 1-4, UCI decided to insert a substitute player – a 20-year old student named Yoshi Takashimizu. Hailing from Kanagawa, Japan, Yoshi was part of a collegiate exchange program with WASEDA University, and she was no stranger to competitive tennis.

Having learned the game from a strict and demanding father/coach, and regularly competing in a friendly rivalry against a talented younger brother, Yoshi excelled at a young age. “After I got into junior high school,” she said, “I started going to tennis club and practiced five times a day and participated in (the) junior national championship tournament in women’s doubles in Japan in 2014.”

Still, Yoshi had never played in front of such a large boisterous audience. But as the tide of the match turned, and she and her partner notched game after game, the fanfare around this young Japanese athlete began to grow. Chants of “YO-SHI… YO-SHI… YO-SHI…” echoed throughout the complex. Suddenly, UCI and their exchange student were on a roll, winning that doubles match with five unanswered games, 6-4.

The resurgent comeback led UCI to a surprising semifinal victory, 23-21, and a spot in the championship final.

“I usually get very nervous before and during matches,” Yoshi said in retrospect, “and could not enjoy playing in matches. But in Nationals I think I learned how to make the pressure into energy and power and enjoy it. I am so thankful for people who cheered for me and made the experience so extraordinary.”

“There are no words to describe the feeling from the energy and support the fans gave us,” team captain Tommy Luu said. “I knew we had made some friends from the other schools but I did not expect almost everyone to be on our side cheering us on.”

That was the case in the championship final, when UCI met a strong and determined Michigan team. As both teams traded wins and losses, UCI held a slim advantage going into the final mixed doubles match, when those chants of “YO-SHI…” resumed as she arrived on court for the deciding match. Yet the Wolverines proved too difficult, and Michigan rebuffed UCI’s challenge to win the trophy, their first Tennis on Campus Nationals title.

“I have actually never played in front of such crowds and it was very, very exciting,” Yoshi recalls.  “Participating and playing in Nationals is the most memorable and unforgettable moment in my studying abroad experience.”

Learn more about Tennis on Campus here.

 

Darryl Nash and Madeline Segura contributed to this article.

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