It was one of her first soccer games as a Hesston College Lark. Miho Okuda, a sophomore, remembers dribbling the ball down the field, the voice of a teammate in her ear. She was yelling to pass the ball. But Okuda just kept dribbling.
Though an expert on the field, Okuda had one skill yet to learn: English.
Okuda did not let that stop her. Fully committed to the game, she is now the third highest individual offense leader in both goals and assists throughout the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference.
But Okuda works for the success, on and off the field. You will often find her on the soccer field on her days off, running drills and practicing her skills.
And she never stops working on her English. Okuda recalled traveling to away games with her teammates last year, practicing different words or grammar skills in English.
“Her English has gotten a lot better,” Kehr said. “But I never saw the language as being a barrier because she was always willing to try.”
Okuda is no stranger to trying new things, whether it be a new language or just a new game schedule. She takes on new challenges and relies on her long history with the sport.
“She has a very deep understanding of the game,” coach Bryan Kehr said. “It is like having a coach on the field. Miho communicates well with her team mates and is always encouraging others on and off of the field.”
And that’s Okuda’s favorite part.
“Teammates. Teamwork,” she said. “I’ve played golf, tennis, soccer, softball and swimming. But I don’t like the individual sports as much. When I play a team sport, I have teammates encouraging me and cheering me on.”
Her teammates not only recognize Okuda’s skill, but also her joyful spirit and ever-present smile.
“Every time I see Miho she always has a smile on her face and is welcoming to anyone who interacts with her,” teammate Kenzie Johnson said. “She will pull us aside whether it’s in a game or practice and coach us.”
Okuda is studying physical education at Hesston College with the hope of becoming a coach in the future.
“She has the grades to be a coach and is on track to be an Academic All-American,” Kehr said. “Her work ethic goes beyond the soccer field, and I think eventually she will make a great coach because of her understanding of the game.”
Born in Chiba, Japan, Okuda came to the United States in August 2016 after committing to play soccer at Hesston. But this was not her first time in the States.
Okuda was part of the Bridge team from Japan, a soccer team that traveled to the States in April of every year. The team played Division I schools with the hope of players getting recruited to play in the United States.
That’s how Okuda found her way to Hesston, Kansas.
Okuda has carried her love for soccer across continents finding herself in Hesston, Kansas for her final year as a Lark. She takes any challenge that comes at her and only continues to grow.
“She gives 110% during practice and games and doesn’t give up until the whistle blows” Johnson said, “She isn’t afraid to be the aggressive player that she is.”