Riko Sagara: GVSU Soccer’s point guard on the Pitch



Eli Ong, Staff Reporter

“Everything: Defend, attack, score, give assists, tackle, win the ball,” once said Manchester United Midfielder Paul Pogba about the requirements of being a midfielder.

There is no debate that midfield is one of the most important positions on the soccer field. A good midfielder does everything that Pogba mentions. This is exactly what Riko Sagara brings to the Grand Valley State University Women’s Soccer Team, and is akin to a point guard running plays on offense and helping coordinate their team on defense.

“Riko is a really creative player,” said GVSU Head Soccer Coach Jeff Hosler. “Riko can really lead this team through her play. She’s hard working, she’s a smart soccer player with a high soccer IQ and I think she’s someone the rest of this team can definitely benefit from watching and playing alongside.”

Silent, steady, stalwart and intelligent. That is how Hosler and fellow observers describe the reserved Sagara. She is someone who works harder than the rest to put her team in the best position possible to win, Hosler said.

“She’s an incredible playmaker,” Hosler said. “But we’ve also been trying to get her to develop more of a nose for goals and I think she’s taken that in stride this week.”

Sagara agreed that she needs to learn to be more aggressive on the attack, but her favorite part of soccer is still anticipating match-ups and reactions so that she can deliver passes to set up her teammates.

“Coach Hosler has been very adamant about me finding my nose to score more goals,” Sagara said. “But passing to my teammates has always been my favorite.”

Last season, Sagara notched 23 assists for the Lakers, which led all of DII Women’s Soccer and was a major reason why Sagara was a unanimous first team all-America selection by the United Soccer Coaches and DII Conference Commissioners’ Association at the end of the 2018 season, as well as the Midwest Region and GLIAC Offensive Player of the Year.

The road for Sagara to get to this level as an American collegiate soccer player has not been one on the straight and narrow since coming to the United States from Japan.

Long before she became a Laker, Sagara lived with a host family in Detroit during her high school days and trained with the Michigan Hawks, one of the best club soccer programs in the country, Hosler said.

“We had a lot of really good conversations and she gave us her original commitment,” Hosler said. “But we had some trouble getting her into school because we have some rather high TOEFL expectations for international students,”

TOEFL, or Test of English as a Foreign Language, is a standardized test meant to measure the English language ability of non-native speakers who wish to enroll in English-speaking universities like GVSU.

To overcome the TOEFL obstacle, Sagara chose to play at the NAIA junior college level until her English was proficient enough to be admitted to GVSU.

“I went to an NAIA college in Tennessee, which was Martin Methodist University,” said Sagara. “Then after Martin Methodist, GVSU still wanted me, so I transferred there.”

When asked what motivated her to keep her commitment to GVSU and work hard to get to Allendale, Sagara cited their championship pedigree.

“Before I came to GVSU, they had won three straight national championships,” said Sagara. “All my life, no matter what I do, all I have wanted to do is win and that is what GVSU is all about: winning.”

Hosler said that Sagara’s intelligence permeates itself within her day-to-day life and not just when she is out on the soccer field.

“When we first recruited Riko, the only English word she knew was hello,” Hosler said. “Now you can have complex conversations with her, she has really good understanding (of English), she has been able to manage the difficult course load Grand Valley provides.”

Her improved English has also allowed her to understand more during team meetings and absorb more information, which has allowed her to take her game to the next level, according to Hosler.

“Going back to the original question of leadership, she is someone who constantly expresses gratitude,” Hosler said. “She is someone who is incredibly disciplined—it really demonstrates what we expect from our players and she epitomizes that.”

The GVSU Laker’s Soccer team will look for that discipline to help lead them back to the national championship in December. Look for the Lakers to kick off their season at home against Rollins University on Thursday, Sept. 5 at 7:30 pm.