Mia Katsuyoshi remembers the car ride home as if it was yesterday. The Christopher High senior was with her parents and left Berkeley on the night of Oct. 22 after Cal field hockey coach Shellie Onstead offered Katsuyoshi a spot on next year’s team.
It’s customary for prospective athletes to take a couple of days to make a decision—even if it’s a slam dunk choice—but Katsuyoshi didn’t need to, verbally accepting on the spot.
“I was overwhelmed and in shock,” Katsuyoshi said. “I remember telling my parents that I couldn’t believe this was happening. My goal all along was to play Division I field hockey, but I wasn’t sure I was going to reach it because a lot of schools were finishing off their recruiting classes for 2022. It was getting to the point where I had to decide.”
Katsuyoshi had some offers from Division III programs, but when Cal offered, it was a no-brainer. The 5-foot-4, 135-pound Katsuyoshi recently wrapped up another strong season playing defender for Christopher High, which lost 1-0 to Los Gatos in the Central Coast Section playoff semifinals on Nov. 10.
It was the Cougars’ best showing ever and cemented their status as the best team in program history. Katsuyoshi was one of the many reasons why, blocking shots before they ever reached the cage, utilizing deft stick handling and beating opposing players on 50/50 balls. Cougars coach Dani Hemeon said everyone is proud of Katsuyoshi’s accomplishment.
“We’re so excited for her and she has been so patient in this entire process,” Hemeon said. “It’s been a whirlwind with Covid and girls getting a fifth year (to play in college) and teams having bigger rosters. She kept her head down and kept working, so I’m glad she was given this opportunity. She deserves it and this is good for her, Cal and the entire CHS program.”
The journey to Cal started years ago as Katsuyoshi watched her older siblings, Kylie and Niko, eventually earn scholarships to play sports in college. Kylie is a senior diver at the University of Denver, and Niko is a sophomore wrestler at Harvard. Mia’s high achieving siblings put the bar at a height that was hard to reach.
But it drove Mia to follow in Kylie and Niko’s footsteps while at the same time forging her own identity and path. Receiving the offer from Cal did just that.
“I grew up in a very athletic family, so it was always a goal of mine to play field hockey in college,” Mia said.
Katsuyoshi attended Monte Vista Christian in her freshman year but transferred to CHS for her sophomore year. Her sister graduated from Sobrato High and their brother left home in the eighth grade to attend Wyoming Seminary—a college preparatory boarding school in Pennsylvania—to pursue his dream of wrestling for an Ivy League college.
Katsuyoshi said Hemeon was instrumental in her development as a player and earning a spot on the Cal team. Hemeon and Gilroy High’s Adam Gemar coach the Infinity Field Hockey club program and have been vital in helping countless players develop their skills and for the growth of the sport in the area.
“I owe a lot to Dani because she’s been such a positive role model and her love for the game shows in all practices and games,” said Katsuyoshi, who carries a 4.3 GPA. “She’s been a great motivator for me.”
Katsuyoshi said missing the fall 2020 season due to Covid made her realize just how much she loved the sport and wanted to continue to play it in college.
“You gain a greater appreciation for something when you have it taken away,” she said. “When Covid shut everything down, it was sad. I really missed being away from the game and being stuck at home. That kind of shifted my mindset because up until that point, I didn’t really know if I wanted to play in college or not. The opportunity was there, but I didn’t know if I could pursue it.”
In addition to Infinity, Katsuyoshi played for a Stryker club team coached by Cal assistant Katrina Carter, a former GHS standout who played at Cal and is currently a part of the U.S. Olympic Development team pool. The Strykers were playing at a tournament in Florida in January, and the two connected and kept in touch via phone calls, texts and at various camps this year.
Katsuyoshi attended a Cal camp in August, but still was in limbo until Onstead offered her a spot on the team on Oct. 22. Katsuyoshi had been invited to attend Cal’s home game against Stanford before Carter and Onstead asked her to come down to the field afterward, where Onstead would make the offer.
“I didn’t really know my position in the recruiting process with Cal,” Katsuyoshi said. “It was very stressful because at one point I didn’t know if I could do it.”
Turns out Cal was simply taking notes on Katsuyoshi in the summer tournament season, including when she played in the Nexus Championships on the East Coast in July. Katsuyoshi said Carter told her Cal liked her style of play and thought would be a good fit for the team.
Carter was in attendance for the second CHS-GHS matchup on Oct. 14, and Katsuyoshi was her usual active self, fighting for possession, maintaining her composure and making plays when the Cougars needed it the most.
Sports editor Emanuel Lee can be reached at [email protected] and (831) 886-0471, ext. 3958.