Small player, big heart

The Baltimore Sun

Senior Tsusa Matsui of Centennial has proven to be a quick study on the lacrosse field, now in his third varsity season as a crease defenseman after picking up the sport in his freshman year.

At 5 feet 9 inches and 160 pounds, Matsui relies on his speed and the techniques he's learned from his coaches to hold his own against bigger attackmen. With two other three-year starting seniors, defense has been a strength for the Eagles in their 4-0 start.

Football has long been his favorite sport, which he has played for 11 years. Matsui played three seasons of varsity, splitting time between running back and cornerback.

With a 3.62 grade point average, Matsui is considering Carlton College in Minnesota and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Indiana, with the chance to play football at both schools. Matsui is considering engineering, mathematics and computer science as possible majors.

How valuable is it for the lacrosse team to have all the experience returning on defense this season?

Working together for the past three years, we know each other pretty well, know each other's strengths and how we can complement each other. For me and the defense as a whole, we want to dictate what an opponent can do and then force some turnovers, send the ball up the field and let our offense take care of the rest. My role is to play within the team defense. It's not about me as an individual doing whatever I want, so I have to work together with the other guys.

What was your first impression of lacrosse?

Confusing [laughs]. Anything new is always a little confusing at first, but it was really different. I was so used to playing football, which is so structured. With lacrosse, it's more of a huge flow. It was different. I never even watched lacrosse before, so I had to learn the rules.

What was it like taking on the challenge?

It was interesting how in the beginning, my first day, I was clearly not as experienced as the other kids. I'm looking around, even the JV players could throw and catch to a certain extent, and I'm just getting used to this stick in my hand. It was completely new. So practice starts and I don't know what anybody else is talking about, so I'm just asking questions here and there and having the coaches lead me one way or another. My first year, my coach just told me to focus on one thing each day and start with the basics. Just learn something new and don't worry about the entire thing -- take it one step at a time.

What is your best moment playing lacrosse?

I'd say beating Mount Hebron twice in overtime last year, even though we did lose to them in counties. Being a big county rivalry, those three games we played against them all went into overtime, and even though we dropped one, the two wins were awesome.

What was the intensity like in those overtime games?

There's a lot of pressure, no doubt about it. Playing defense, you don't want to give their offense that little bit of chance that could hurt your team and put you down by that goal that separated us. So there was a lot of pressure when we were on defense. But being able to defend and give our offense a chance, knowing I was part of that whole team effort, was unbelievable.

What do you prefer in football -- offense or defense?

I'm a defensive person. [Playing defense in football], you can think more on your own; it's not structure, it's not you go here. I like that part of it. And on the offensive side, your technically attacking, but you're also taking on the hits. On defense, you go out and give out the hits.

How did you find out about the colleges you're considering?

Carlton, I was contacted by their football coach -- that's how I found out about that school. I didn't know anything about it -- it's in the middle of nowhere in Minnesota, a small private school. Rose-Hulman, I think is the No. 1 engineering school undergrad, and if I were interested in engineering that would be a great place to go. With both schools I have an opportunity to play some football and get a great education.

What do you want to get from the remaining part of your senior year?

In terms of the future, I have to make a decision between the colleges. I still have to visit Carlton, so we'll see how that goes. I think after I visit, it will make more sense where I want to go, so I'm just letting that play itself out. In terms of school here, you don't want to slack off and coast through. But at the same time, there's not as much pressure now. I guess the goal is to continue to be successful, but don't over-stress yourself and try to enjoy the last couple months. In terms of athletics, I haven't won any type of championship yet --- county, regional or states in football or lacrosse -- so that's a big goal for me. Winning states in lacrosse as a senior would be great.

Do you have any role models?

My Dad would be one of them. I know what he went through to come over here, knowing little to no English. Working for his graduate degree in America and then starting a new life here, I respect that from him. If he hadn't done that, I wouldn't be playing lacrosse or football.

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