Japanese foreign exchange student finds spot on San Clemente High School varsity tennis team
By Steve Breazeale
The only bits of English that 17-year-old Yuki Mizutani had a grasp of when he landed in San Clemente last September he learned through standardized tests.
As a student in Nagoya, Japan, Mizutani spent four years studying English, but only the letters and words associated with homework. He was, and is, a tennis player, but his 10-hour school days got in the way of his practicing. Tennis fell by the wayside.
Through a foreign exchange program called CETUSA, Mizutani decided to board a plane and spend a year abroad. He knew he wanted to go to America, but he didn’t know where he wanted to go. The program decided to send him to the sunny beaches of San Clemente, which was a dream come true for a high school tennis player.
The San Clemente boys tennis team entered their spring 2013 season as the back-to-back defending South Coast League champions and were favorites to three-peat. Mizutani did not know about the American high school athletic system of dividing players from varsity to junior varsity when he went to try out, all he knew is he wanted to play.
“A couple of players told me about him at first. When he came out to tryouts we didn’t see him making varsity or playing much,” head coach John Stephens said. “As practices kept going, he kept picking it up and getting better.”
Mizutani impressed the Tritons coaching staff with his athleticism and soon made the varsity team. He now plays a part rotating in and out of the No. 3 doubles team.
“I love it here. The weather is so comfortable and I get to play tennis a lot,” Mitzutani said. “When I was in Japan I couldn’t really play tennis because I had to study a lot… Now I play just about every day.”
The transition from newcomer to teammate was not the smoothest. Stephens and his staff envisioned Mizutani playing doubles, a concept that was as foreign to Yuki as having a midday ceramics class (his new favorite subject). He had spent his life playing singles tennis and now had to learn the doubles style on top of learning how to communicate with his teammates.
Stephens and assistant coach Jim Wilson figured out they had to slow things down in order to make things easier for everyone. Key words like “feet” or “toss” became simple signals that Stephens would yell to Mizutani so he would know that he needed to increase his foot speed or change his serve toss or be in a different position on the court.
“We were trying to simplify it a little bit…He is a great learner and open to coaching. He wants to learn and he wants to understand,” Stephens said.
Mizutani showed Stephens that he is a better match player than he is in practice and has played an important role on the Tritons team that won the South Coast League for a third consecutive year on April 16 with a win over El Toro. He will return to be back with his mom, dad and two older brothers in Japan at the end of the school year in June.
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