UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO
Randi Kikuchi said she will return to Maui after she graduates and help her mother open a store called "Waikapu on 30."
Having the Last laugh
Randi Kikuchi ends her soccer career for the Dons on a happy note
RANDI KIKUCHI laughed easily and often during her telephone interview.
Life was good and she was one match away from making her coach's wish come true.
"My biggest wish was that Randi stayed healthy all year," said San Francisco women's coach Pamela Kalinoski.
Kikuchi's five seasons at USF have not always been full of laughs.
She questioned whether she was ready for NCAA Division I soccer when she walked on as a freshman after being a first-team Maui Interscholastic League selection for four years playing for Seabury Hall. Then she suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury to her right knee twice, and doubted she would play again after the second.
On Saturday, the center back started the final match of her collegiate career, playing in her 18th consecutive match her senior year, an injury-free year.
"I'm really pretty sad about my career being over. It's been a long road that has gone by fast, in a heart beat," said Kikuchi, who graduates with a psychology degree next month.
The move to center back happened last spring when Kalinoski took stock of her returnees and incoming recruits.
"It turned out to be pretty easy. I watched from the sidelines for two years and learned a lot," said Kikuchi, who stands 5-foot-1. "I just missed a black eye last weekend. I'm in the elbow range. I get a lot of that to the jaws and face."
Kalinoski knew Kikuchi could handle the move but challenged her to assume a lot of responsibility for the organization of the defense and communication on the back line.
"Randi is the type of kid who will do whatever you ask her to do. She is a feisty competitor, tenacious, has the highest vertical jump on our team, never backs down, has incredible speed and makes up for what she lacks with pure heart," Kalinoski said.
It took a lot of heart and soul-searching for Kikuchi to still be playing for the Dons this season.
She quit the team during her freshman year at USF.
"I was really homesick and didn't feel like I could handle it at that time, a decision that I totally regret," Kikuchi said.
The following spring, Kalinoski saw Kikuchi working out in the weight room on several occasions. Kikuchi finally asked for a second chance. The coach said no problem.
Kikuchi played in 14 matches, 10 as a starter, in 2002. She did not play in the first six matches in 2003, during which USF had come to Hawaii to play the Rainbow Wahine.
"That was just awful," said Kikuchi.
But two teammates went down with ACL injuries and Kikuchi played the next six matches before she suffered her first ACL injury in a match.
"I tore everything up," Kikuchi said.
She rehabbed, but two weeks before the 2004 season, it happened again.
"It happened in a stupid indoor game. A not-very-skilled player took Randi out with a tackle," said Kalinoski.
"Randi told me she was done. She was not motivated.
"We didn't want her to step away from soccer. She had built her way up the scholarship ladder and I have a lot of respect for someone who goes through that process."
However, Kikuchi couldn't stay away form the practice field. Slowly the desire to compete returned.
"I couldn't fill the void with anything else. I missed the girls. I talked with Coach and decided to try it again," said Kikuchi. "It's funny, because I never got hurt all through high school."
She recovered faster from the second ACL and was able to play in most of the spring games. That led to her move to center back and a full season of injury-free soccer.
Kikuchi's soccer highlight is the 2-1 double overtime victory over San Diego Oct. 14.
"It was a very intense game and we had never beaten them since I came here," said Kikuchi, who will miss San Francisco, especially at Christmas time when the downtown area is brightened with holiday lights.
"It was the most fun I've had in a long time."
She will return to Maui after graduation to help her mother, Barbara, open a store -- Waikapu on 30 -- but hopes to eventually go to Japan to teach English.
Another Maui resident, striker Keo Eaton (Baldwin '04) played one match for the Dons this year after redshirting last year following an ACL injury suffered the first day of practice.
"Keo has a lot of potential, but needs to be fit to play at this level," said Kalinoski. "She uses her size incredibly well. If she commits to the fitness side of life, she can be an impact player for us."