April 30, 2024 TOPICS

Playing our “own style” of hockey to secure a Triple Crown

Yusuke Kawamura (4th year, College of Policy Science) ※AY2023

With its fast-paced play, fierce competition, and skillful stick work, field hockey is an exciting sport. The Ritsumeikan University Hockey Club is a field hockey powerhouse that has produced numerous players, including both current students and alumni, who have been selected for Japan’s national team. One of these players is Yusuke Kawamura, the captain of the men’s team. He has been a member of championship teams since junior high school and was selected several times for the Junior Youth team. In his third year at university, he was selected for the Samurai Japan national team and played in the international tournament. As the captain, he led the Ritsumeikan team to a Triple Crown, securing victories in the Spring League, Fall League, and Intercollegiate Championship, and he was named MVP of the Intercollegiate Championship. In this interview, we talked to Kawamura about his competitive career as the leader of a storied hockey club whose mission is to become number one in Japan.

Following in the footsteps of older students he admired

Influenced by his older brother, who is six years his senior, Kawamura began playing ice hockey in kindergarten and joined a field hockey team when he was in elementary school. Starting in junior high school, he devoted himself to field hockey and immersed himself in some of the most competitive environments in Japan. In his third year of junior high school, he played a pivotal role on defense and made a major contribution to his team winning the national championship, which earned him the title of MVP. In recognition of his success, he was selected for the Junior Youth team, where he also demonstrated his ability to compete in the international arena, with his team placing third in the Hockey WA F-H-E Cup.

KDespite suffering an injury to his meniscus about six months after entering high school, he was able to secure playing time from his first year, and the team won the Inter-High School Championship in his second year. After refining his one-on-one defense and interception skills through daily practice, he was selected for the Youth national team, which he led as captain. He achieved stellar results, including podium finishes at the Inter-High School Championship, the National Sports Festival, and the National Championships.

The deciding factor in his choice of Ritsumeikan University were older students who he had been chasing throughout his athletic career. “I was very impressed by the fact that there were players I admired, such as Masaki Ohashi (College of Law Class of 2016), who played field hockey with me when I was little, and Raiki Fujishima (College of Business Administration Class of 2020), who was the captain of the team two years ahead of me. It was Fujishima, in particular, who directly urged me to enter Ritsumeikan, so I felt strongly that I, too, wanted to play for Ritsumeikan and strive to become number one in Japan,” recounts Kawamura.

After coming to Ritsumeikan, Kawamura was overwhelmed by the top-class competitive environment, but due to his dedication to defense, he rose to the top and assumed a regular playing role in the second half of the season. He supported the defensive line of Ritsumeikan, whose name is synonymous with strong defense and quick counter attacks, and after the team won Intercollegiate Championship, he was selected to represent Japan as a member of the U21 national team. With this, his university-level athletic career was off to a spectacular start.

“Defense wins games:” A lesson learned from the Samurai Japan team

Unfortunately, things took a turn for the worse, and Kawamura struggled in his second season. In the summer, the team was eliminated from the All-Japan University Playoff after making a mistake that led to a loss in the semi-final against Tenri University. "I lost some of my confidence when I made an error that cost the team a win in an important match, and it left a lasting impact on the rest of my matches," recalls Kawamura. In the fall, the team faced Tenri University again in the final match of the Intercollegiate Championship, but they were unable to play as well as they would have liked and were knocked out for the second year in a row. Throughout the season, Kawamura was tormented by self-doubt and felt that he had not contributed to the team's victories.

An opportunity to exit this tunnel with seemingly no end in sight came when he met the older players whose lead he had been following all along. “When I was up for a spot on the Japanese men's national team and joined them at their training camp, communicating and playing with Ohashi and Fujishima made me realize that I lacked something in terms of my mindset towards field hockey. Namely, what should you focus on when playing an opponent and what strategies or assumptions do you need to make to anticipate their next move? By playing with these older students, I learned that defense wins games. I was only a candidate at that point, but being able to train with top-class players allowed me to tackle field hockey with more passion than ever before," says Kawamura, looking back on this major turning point.

After that, Kawamura made his national team debut at the FIH Men's World Cup qualifying round, where the Japan team faced off against Belgium, the top ranked team in the world, and Tokyo Olympics champion Germany in the main draw. Competing against the world's best teams, his time spent as a member of the Samurai Japan team was intense, and it helped him develop the high level of perspective and self-awareness that he needed to take his game to the next level.

Facing off against a familiar nemesis

Kawamura was named team captain as he entered his final season at the university level. The Ritsumeikan team set the lofty goal of winning six major championships, including the Intercollegiate Championship and the All-Japan University Playoff , and they got off to a good start toward achieving this feat by first winning the Spring League.

An unseen pressure and impatience seemed to permeate the entire team, however. After failing to advance to the final stage in the Japan League, they allowed Tenri University to take the title in the final game of the All-Japan University Playoff one month later. Despite seizing the initiative in the first half of the match, they missed out on the win by letting their opponent take advantage of a few key chances in the final minutes, and the first half of the season ended in the most frustrating way.

This loss, however, became the team’s driving force in the second half of the season. “Looking back on the first half of the season, we made it a point to communicate better with each other, starting with our daily practices. What’s more, the team as a whole grew stronger thanks to the leadership of Taiki Takade (College of Comprehensive Psychology), a fourth-year player who also played for Samurai Japan, and second-year player Yamato Kawahara (College of Policy Science),” explains Kawamura.

Drawing on their defeat in the first half, the team faced their archrival Tenri University again in the final match of the Intercollegiate Championship. The two teams were locked in a stalemate from the beginning, but Ritsumeikan gave up the first goal in the second quarter and found itself unable to maintain a sustained attack throughout the game. According to Kawamura, however, the team he saw on the field that day was different from the one that played in the first half of the season. “If we could just play our ‘own style’ of hockey, we could surely turn things around. With this in mind, team morale was so high that we were certain we would catch up in the second half of the game.” As Kawamura had anticipated, Ritsumeikan tied the game with two and a half minutes remaining, and then went on to win the shootout. With this, the team was crowned the best in Japan and Kawamura was named the MVP. “We aggressively went after another point after tying the game, and we were able to demonstrate Ritsumeikan's underlying strength, which we had been unable to do in the first half,” recounts a smiling Kawamura. The team went on to win the Fall League and secure a Triple Crown for the season. Although they fell short of their goal of winning six championships, the season came to a close with the resilience of the ever-strong Ritsumeikan team on full display.

Injecting more excitement into field hockey as Ritsumeikan players

After graduation, Mr. Kawamura will move on to Leibe Tochigi, a corporate team powerhouse, and make a new start as a field hockey player. He envisions a future where the field hockey world will become even more exciting, and he sends a message of encouragement to Ritsumeikan’s younger players. “I hear the team has added some powerful new students and has set its sights on winning six championships again this year. Since they will face off against me in the Japan League, however, I will give my all to win against them. I hope we can all continue to enjoy hockey as Ritsumeikan players and inject more excitement into the sport together.” Inheriting the tradition of the Ritsumeikan powerhouse that he played for, Kawamura has achieved great results with his dedicated play. It won't be long before he becomes a leader in the field hockey world and the kind of player that the younger generations aim to emulate.


Yusuke Kawamura
Kawamura graduated from Tochigi Prefectural Imaichi High School. He grew up in Nikko City in Tochigi Prefecture, which is a well-known field hockey town. Influenced by his older brother, who was also a field hockey player, he has had a close connection to the sport since he was a young boy. His hobby is watching sports, and he especially likes to watch soccer and ice hockey games.


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