(Nov. 20, 2014) - When she arrived in Japan in October, Kristie Mewis barely had time to get to know her teammates before she was on the field in uniform and playing for Iga FC Kunoichi. A few weeks later, Mewis and Iga are one result away from remaining in the top-flight L-1 League.
(Nov. 20, 2014) - When she arrived in Japan in October, Kristie Mewis barely had time to get to know her teammates before she was on the field in uniform and playing for Iga FC Kunoichi.
"My first practice is kind of a blur now considering I hadn't slept in about two days," Mewis said. "It was silly and fun because it was my first day and we had a game the next day. The girls were so welcoming and willing to help me. I felt right at home. It's so fun playing with a fresh new group of girls."
Kristie and former Breaker Rachel (Buehler) Van Hollebeke joined Iga, trying to help the team avoid relegation from the top-flight L-1 League. This weekend, Iga plays in the return leg of a two-match series against Nittaidai. Iga won last weekend, 1-0, and with a result Nov. 23, the team will remain in L-1. Mewis played a huge role in giving Iga a 1-0 advantage on aggregate. She scored the game-winner in the 92nd minute in last weekend's win.
Kristie Mewis celebrates her game-winning goal with her Iga FC Kunoichi teammates (Photo Courtesty Iga FC)
"Winning this weekend is very important to the team and to me," Mewis said. "They deserve to stay in the top division. If we win, it will be a great feeling knowing I was able to be a part of it."
Mewis and Van Hollebeke share a two-bedroom apartment in Iga, a short drive to the training fields and the 4,500-capacity home grounds, Sport Ueno Park Stadium.
"Game days would be the highlight of course," Mewis said. "The fans are extremely supportive. They have signs, banners, and gifts for us after every game. It's a great community in Iga."
Having only played and trained in Iga for a month, Mewis has noticed a few differences between players in the U.S. and Japan.
"Everyone on my Iga FC team is technically amazing," she said. "In the U.S., everyone has different strengths. The skill with the ball is not dominated by only a couple of the players, but all the players. Training at such a high skill level has forced me to become more in tune with decision-making, both mentally and physically."
Off the field, Mewis has had a chance to get out and take in all she can in Japan, and she's also had to learn to, of all things, how to separate her trash.
"The trash system here is really hard to figure out," she said. "Rachel and I have spent so many weeks trying to perfect taking the trash out, which is just hilarious to say. They separate everything, and different things get collected at different times of the month. The first week we had to dig through our trash because we didn't separate anything. So random, I know. But it's been quite an experience."
Mewis' experience on the field doesn't end with her match against Nittaidai. Following Iga's game this weekend, the club plays on Dec. 6, in the first game of the Empress Cup.
"Being in Japan sure has been an experience both on and off the field," Mewis said. "It's a completely different world, but I'm loving every second of it. The culture is more unique than anything I have encountered before. The diligence and effort that the Japanese put into their everyday life is astonishing."