Sophia Kurisu on how to love the game


Courtesy Vladimir Frenkel

Junior Sophia Kurisu dribbles a soccer ball across the field during a game for the Mountain View-Los Altos soccer team. Last summer, Sophia joined the NorCal Premier team, which won the Gothia Cup U-17 division.

By Audrey Tsai, Los Altos High School

It started like a bad joke: What does an airport bomb threat, missing a layover in France and eating canned fish for dinner have in common?

Los Altos High School soccer player and junior Sophia Kurisu might know the answer.

Before Kurisu arrived in Sweden with the NorCal Premier team for the Gothia Cup, the largest international youth soccer tournament, the team had to go through all three events in the span of two days or so.

Despite the initial difficulties, six days and six wins later, Sophia and her team brought home the Gothia Puma Trophy, placing first in the U-17 division.

Out of over a hundred girls, Kurisu was one of 18 selected to represent Northern California in the tournament. But for anyone who’s seen Kurisu play in the past few years, it’s no surprise that she’s competing at the top level. In the past seven years, her improvement has been exponential.

“Sophia’s definitely not a big player, but her technique is insane.” Kurisu’s Mountain View–Los Altos soccer teammate junior Aoife Turner said. “You can’t even see the ball when she’s dribbling because her feet move so fast.”

After qualifying for the team, Kurisu joined her new teammates in two practice sessions before their flight, which was, unfortunately, anything but smooth.

A bomb threat at the San Francisco airport delayed their flight long enough that the team missed their layover in France, stranding them in a foreign country for the night. Finding enough food to feed an elite soccer team was certainly no easy feat, especially when they couldn’t convert their money into euros or work the vending machines. Eventually, the team got airport meals of canned salmon and crackers, splitting six sandwiches between the group and finally made it to Sweden in the morning.

While many of the members had not played together in an official capacity, rooming together and a shared travel experience allowed the team to bond during their matches.

“It was a bit traumatizing, but it was interesting,” Kurisu said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, both Sweden and the traveling.”

In the team’s final match against German soccer team Bayer Leverkusen, Kurisu scored the first goal of the match, which eventually ended in a 2–1 win for NorCal Premier. The team left the tournament undefeated.

Watching Kurisu sprint across the field and steal balls from girls a good foot taller than her, it’s hard to believe that she hasn’t been playing soccer her entire life. However, when Kurisu started playing soccer in fourth grade, she was already considered very old for a beginner. Among other MVLA soccer players who started in kindergarten or early elementary school, Kurisu was at a distinct disadvantage — she was late to the game, but it would not take her long to catch up.

“I remember thinking, oh shoot, she’s gonna take everyone’s spot on this team,” Turner said. “Like this girl from a third team can beat everyone in a 1 v.s. 1.”

In just one season, Kurisu went from the third team to one of the top players on the first team, defying all expectations. She maintains that it would not have been possible without her dad.

Her family has always been very athletic — her mom played field hockey, her dad tennis and soccer. So when Kurisu and her brother joined soccer teams, he basically became their personal trainer, helping Kurisu with her technical skills and pushing her to improve. From his coaching, Kurisu has developed a unique playing style.

“There’s a very different style between women’s style and men’s style soccer, and Sophia is the best of both worlds,” Turner said. “So she’s really aggressive and super technical from the boys, but also isn’t a ball hog.”

Her secret? Hours of dedication, a genuinely positive attitude, and of course, copious amounts of sugar.

“She’s such an animated player on the field, she’s got so much energy,” Turner said. “I’m surprised she doesn’t have diabetes.”

Her teammate recalls Kurisu’s love of Haribo gummy bears and boba with 100 percent sugar. In fact, before one of their matches in Seattle, Washington, Kurisu ate four bags of Haribo gummy bears in one sitting. But it’s certainly effective, as the sugar seems to convert to pure energy on the field, making her a serious threat.

Her upbeat and optimistic personality has also allowed her to form close bonds with her teammates, making Kurisu’s propensity for teamwork one of her strengths. As the central midfielder, she’s often the playmaker, strategically connecting the different pieces of the field during the game.

“Everyone gets along with Sophia so well because she’s so friendly,” Turner said. “I haven’t heard Sophia say a single mean thing about anyone on the soccer field, even though she’s like 10 times better than a lot of us.”

By the time she was in sixth or seventh grade, Kurisu had known she was fully committed to her soccer career, putting in hours of dedicated practice.

“When I was younger, sometimes I would go to the field on the weekends and train for eight hours,” Kurisu said. “You just try your hardest. If you’re the hardest working player on the field, I guarantee you won’t have a bad day.”

Kurisu has maintained that same attitude throughout the years, taking her to Sweden and back, and hopefully, into her future. She intends to play in the college league and for the National Women’s Soccer League.

When asked for advice, Kurisu had a few words of wisdom to share.

“Be coachable,” Kurisu said. “Show that you want to be a student of the game and you are invested and you really love playing soccer.”

This story was originally published on The Talon on November 17, 2022.