Rena Nakajima will have a helpful boost as she enters post-secondary life.
On June 9 at the BC Soccer Awards and Scholarship Luncheon in Burnaby, Nakajima was announced as the winner of one of three BC Soccer Scholarship recipients.
Nakajima had applied for the scholarship, citing her leadership skills in school and in the community as a coach with the Whistler Youth Soccer Club (WYSC). Even with the strong credentials, though, she admitted she was unsure of her chances when she submitted her case.
"I was pretty excited because BC Soccer is such a big organization and I didn't really expect to be recognized for my soccer achievements just because I come from a small town whereas in the city, soccer is so much bigger," she said.
Nakajima coaches once a week with WYSC, working with teams ranging from under-six to the under-14 rep club.
The rest of the time, she's practicing or playing the beautiful game, as Nakajima travels to Vancouver four to five times per week to pursue her passion for soccer. It's a journey she's made for four seasons, as she most recently suited up with the EA Sports BC Soccer Premier League's Fusion FC U18 team. As a centre-back, Nakajima helped the Richmond-based team to a 4-3-3 record this season, overcoming a rough start to end the regular season on a four-game undefeated streak. Fusion was also the only team to beat top-ranked Coquitlam in the regular season, an accomplishment that stands as a highlight of Nakajima's campaign.
However, the club was defeated in the quarterfinals of the Provincial Premier Cup tournament and saw its campaign come to a close.
"We had a pretty good season overall, and we got to go to Las Vegas for a scouting trip earlier this year as well," she said.
Nakajima has been playing soccer for about a decade, first competing at the rep level here in Whistler when she was in Grade 8. The next season, she moved to the Metro Select League, Vancouver's second-highest league, before jumping to Fusion this season as part of the city's premier youth circuit.
The scholarship, worth $1,500, will help significantly with Nakajima's postsecondary education beginning next year. She is set to attend the University of Toronto to study engineering. Nakajima will try out for the school's varsity soccer team, but if she doesn't make the final cut, will continue playing at an intramural level.
"You have a whole group of girls on the field with you who are all working toward the same thing and are all really passionate about the sport," she said. "It's cool that everyone is so committed and puts in the time and effort to the team and to each other."
Also at the luncheon, Cassia Jean received the Signal Systems Scholarship while WYSC president PJ O'Heany received the Award of Merit for his contributions to the sport.