As is the case with most students who venture into the college selection process, the path for Christine Tamamoto was by no means crystal clear or set in stone. The native of Hawaii had a difficult decision to make in the choice between attending either an NCAA Division I or Division III school.
With application deadlines looming, an ultimate decision had to be made. Baylor University in Waco, Texas, became the mainland destination for the speedy defender-turned-midfielder.
After one season of Division I soccer, Tamamoto decided a change of scenery was needed. “At first I wasn’t sure what division I wanted to play, but after a year I decided I would rather focus more on school,” she said referring to the absurdly time-consuming commitment that is Division I athletics.
While Tamamoto narrowed her search down to Linfield and Pacific, there were several factors playing into her final decision to become a Wildcat. Perhaps most notably is the direct connection she holds through her cousin, Geoff Kunita, who is a member of Linfield’s men’s soccer program.
Kunita, a one-time baseball player at Linfield, made the transition to soccer after his freshman year. “It was mainly my decision but it helped that she was playing here too because I could get out and practice with her,” the senior forward replied when asked about switching sports.
“Geoff really pushed me to come to Linfield, and I have some other friends from home who are at Linfield so it was nice to have that connection,” Tamamoto explained.
For Tamamoto – and the Linfield women’s soccer team – the decision could not have turned out any better.
“Christine learned a lot at Baylor and was really eager to play when she got here,” said Wildcats coach Dominic Doty. “And she has grown into one of the more exciting players in the (Northwest) conference.”
On top of being a regular starter for the 7-1-2 Wildcats, Tamamoto is an exercise science major who intends to become a physical therapist. “It’s hard, but it helps having other people like Julia (Vaughan) and Tessa (D’Alessandro) who are in the same boat,” said Tamamoto, referencing how a pair of seniors also majoring in exercise science motivate her to maintain balance between academics and athletics.
Though she stands just 4-foot-10, Tamamoto is widely regarded as a force on the field. A first team all-Northwest Conference selection as a junior last season, Tamamoto is well on her way to replicating that performance again in 2012. “She’s an outstanding technical player and finds seams and passing lanes that other players don’t,” explained Doty when asked about Tamamoto’s unique skill set.
The fourth-year coach’s sentiments were echoed by her teammates, who admire Tamamoto’s work ethic and positive attitude. “It makes my life easier because I can trust her to take care of her job and play at a very high level,” said team captain and fellow senior Anna Sours.
While the pressure of being one of the top performers in the conference can be overwhelming at times, Tamamoto explained the ways in which she deals with the stress and prepares for each match. “I don’t have a specific routine, but I just try to focus and get in the right mindset,” she said, adding, “I try to calm down right before the first whistle, and get my first touch early.”
From her first touch of the game, the poised yet competitive side of Tamamoto emerges, and she immediately becomes an offensive weapon.
The team’s overall makeup and scheme requires efficiently delivering the ball to its key playmakers. Tamamoto’s versatility is invaluable to the team, said Doty. “She is adaptable and plays different attacking and defending roles, which keeps giving her opportunities to create.”
On top of being one of the most technically sound players on the squad, Tamamoto also leads by example, acting as a role model for the younger players. “Christine is always positive and really enjoyable to be around,” Sours said. “And she’s genuinely a nice person.”
“Her approach to life is upbeat and positive, and it is contagious within the group,” Doty said.
Linfield embarked on a steady climb up the Northwest Conference standings starting in 2009. The ‘Cats were runners-up last season with a record of 11-2-3. Though Linfield cruised to a record-breaking six straight wins to open the 2012 season, a recent pair of ties against Willamette and Lewis & Clark proved to be a setback.
The season is far from over and Tamamoto believes in her team and its ability to play at a premier level. “We just need to approach each game individually and start winning one game at a time,” she said when asked about the goals for this year’s squad.
As the season progresses, pressure is likely to continue to build and the ‘Cats will be faced with what, for many of the players, will be the biggest games of their careers.
Teams that succeed under pressure feature players who compete for one another and who have integrity, passion and the ability to positively influence teammates through their actions on and off the field.
Luckily for Linfield, the Wildcats have just such a player in Christine Tamamoto.
-- Evan O'Kelly '13