Vinson sailors exchange sea legs for soccer legs during Ikego visit
IKEGO HEIGHTS NAVAL HOUSING FACILITY, Japan — “C’mon, George! Hurry up!” Yamato Cibulka called from across the field.
A tiny figure, standing in the parking area on a rise near Ikego’s main soccer field, waved back and started running toward the team — a rag-tag collection of seven soccer players from the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, augmented by Nile C. Kinnick High School players.
The high schoolers welcomed George Murray, a junior striker, like a long-lost relative. He’d arrived moments before the piecemeal Vinson team was to kick off a “friendly” contest with the Yokosuka Seahawks — a team for which Murray and the four other Red Devils play part-time.
“OK, now we’ve got our secret weapon,” Kinnick’s Mark McGuire told Seahawks coach Justin McGuire.
“Yeah, but we’ve got somebody who can match up with him,” the elder McGuire replied.
“You’re now officially in the Navy, son,” Seahawks left winger Nico Hindie said as Murray rushed to join the Vinson team.
The 5-foot-5 Murray became an instant hero for the Vinson, which celebrated its return from four months at sea with a soccer-field victory.
Murray, who’s scored a team-leading 13 goals for Kinnick, tallied in the 56th minute. He also assisted on Robert Hurtado’s tally during stoppage time, as the ship-based team rallied from a 1-0 half-time deficit to win 2-1.
“They helped us very much,” Vinson goalkeeper Rick Solorzano said. “We appreciated them being here. They did an outstanding job.”
Not everybody, however, greeted Murray’s performance with enthusiasm.
“Our own teammate killed us!” Justin McGuire said. “He killed us out there. Can you believe that?”
But he was smiling. This was the first soccer match in a three-day competition among the Vinson, Yokosuka’s shore-based units and teams from the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk battle group, forward-deployed at Yokosuka.
The cooperative effort by the Morale, Welfare and Recreation divisions at Yokosuka, Ikego and the two battle groups was designed to give Vinson sailors some activities during their brief Yokosuka visit, and some friendly competition between visiting and home units.
The competition featured a bit of gamesmanship at the outset, courtesy of Ikego MWR director Mike Murphy. “I told the Vinson crew that the Seahawks are 35-0,” he said. “Their eyes got really big. Then I told them they’re all 35 [years old] and they haven’t won a game.”
While the soccer teams battled at Ikego, at Yokosuka’s Thew Gym and Berkey Field 30 minutes away, six softball and five basketball squads faced off in similar round-robin of friendly competitions.
“When the ships come to town, you have an extra 6,000 sailors on the base,” said Yokosuka MWR sports director Kyle Rhodus. “To schedule games like these not only gives them something to do, it builds cohesion and camaraderie between ships.”
Vinson sailors said the games provided a nice break from four months of filling in for the Kitty Hawk during its Persian Gulf deployment to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“It’s always nice” to get on shore and play, said Ryan Hubbs of the Vinson.
Despite the victory, the Vinson team had little practice time before stepping on the field, Hubbs said.
“Gym, cardio, treadmills, stationary bikes,” he said of the team’s workout regimen. “We don’t spend time with the ball too much at sea.”
And although the Vinson fields two teams with a total of 24 players, only seven showed for Sunday’s contest.
“You don’t get too many chances to go off and sightsee in a foreign country,” Hubbs said.
The softball and basketball competitions, though, featured almost-full turnouts. Jesse Ecklund, Thew Gym fitness center director, said only one of Sunday’s contests was forfeited, with two more days of games slated before the Vinson leaves port Thursday.
“Only one no-show,” he said. “Other than that, everything’s fine.”
Even for the Seahawks, the competition was a nice break from the Japanese teams that are their usual opponents.
“This is fun,” Justin McGuire said. “We play against the same team every Saturday. This is a good chance to play against some new faces.”
Even if one of the familiar faces — Murray — ends up bringing down the home team.
“I’m going to have to talk with him about that,” McGuire said.