Aya Sameshima played in every World Cup match in Germany in 2011, helping the women's national team to its first World Cup title in Japanese soccer history. The talented defender went on to earn a silver medal with Nadeshiko Japan at the 2012 London Olympics.
An impressive resume for sure, but the 25-year-old has traveled an anything-but-smooth road in her club team career since the events of March 11, 2011.
Since 2006, Sameshima's club team had been TEPCO Mareese, a side in the top flight Nadeshiko League. Backed by Tokyo Electric Power Co., the team was disbanded when TEPCO came under fire for its handling of the nuclear accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant after the Great East Japan Earthquake.
With nowhere to turn, Sameshima sought soccer refuge overseas. She signed with the U.S. team Boston Breakers in June 2011, then transferred to French club Montpellier in the French first division in September 2011. Sameshima decided to return to Sendai, where she went to high school, to play soccer just before the start of the London Games.
It was not an easy decision for Sameshima, for Vegalta Sendai Ladies competes in the second-tier Challenge League. Still, although it is not top level football, Sameshima wanted to play one more time with her old teammates who moved from Mareeze and help cheer up people in quake-recovering Sendai.
"Playing in a second-tier league was a big decision," she says. "I won't grow as an athlete unless I'm constantly conscious of high-level plays. I hope to pressure myself in this new environment by taking on new challenges."
Sameshima's Sendai reunion came on Sept. 16, when Vegalta faced AC Nagano Parceiro at Sendai's Yurtec Stadium. A record-breaking 8,658 fans turned out for the match. Sameshima, who was suffering pain in her right thigh, came on in the second half. She showed off her signature aggressive style.
A defender with Nadeshiko Japan, Vegalta is using Sameshima in a more offensive role as a midfielder.
Sameshima is the only member of the Olympic silver-medal winning team to be playing in the second-tier Challenge League. But if Vegalta wins the league tournament this season, the team will automatically be promoted to the top-tier Nadeshiko League next season.
Vegalta Sendai won their match against AC Nagano Parceiro 3-0, and with five matches remaining in the season are still at the top of the Challenge League table.
Sameshima hopes she can help Vegalta be promoted, but she admits there is still room for improvement.
"We were able to make some good plays, but I personally have to fix some of my techniques," she says.
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