Kickin’ it with the Mambas

By Hazel Schaeffer

This month, players of the Mambas Intramural soccer team won their final game, marking their sixth championship in four years. However, legend has it that this team has been around for much longer, winning for the past 10 to 12 years. The Mac Weekly spoke with Even Kvelland, Reginald “Reggie” Doku, Divine “Professori” Miho and Yilikal “Z” Ayino, four of the five senior members of this Macalester institution, to learn the secret of their success and the rewards and penalties that have come with it. TMW: Will you leave the Mambas better than you found it? Even: I’d say we’ve managed to establish a good name for ourselves. When we play other teams, they’re like, “Oh we’re playing the Mambas,” and you can see the fear in their eyes.

Yilikal: Some people don’t like us because we always win. We have to beg people to join us. Africans by default will join, but we shouldn’t all be Africans. We want to bring white people. [All laugh.] Have the Mambas always had a large makeup of African players? Yilikal: Yes. I would say 70 percent or more are Africans, and some African lovers.

Even: And some Norwegian lovers.

Reginald: It’s kind of difficult in the indoor season because most of the Africans don’t have indoor facilities back home. We try to recruit a couple of Varsity guys for their technique and experience.

Yilikal This year we didn’t bring any Varsity guys. And we kicked their ass.

Even: Undefeated this year.

You didn’t lose a single game this year? All: No! What did it feel like to win that last finals game? Divine: Finally. We wanted it so badly.

Yilikal: It was kind of a tough game for some reason. We expected to win easily because we had an easy ride throughout—we beat everybody—but part of us were tired or injured. And they were very motivated to defend us.

Reginald: This is our last year. We wanted to leave with a trophy; well, it’s not a trophy, but a T-shirt. [All laugh.] I really wanted to leave with something and that’s the feeling across the team, especially since last year we lost both indoor and outdoor competitions. But we did have a lot of serious injuries.

Even: I broke my back in March. I played the beginning, but I was in the hospital for most of the season. I came to watch the last game and cheer them on. I was supposed to be the captain for the final semester, but it’s hard to be the captain in the hospital. [All laugh] We should have had [the games] streamed online. Do you play soccer outside of IM? Yilikal: Yeah, a little bit. Four of five times a week, every night after 10 p.m. and Fridays every week at 4:30 p.m. It’s pretty much the most popular pickup sport at Mac. We get around 16 to 20 people coming every Friday to play, and every night around 10 to 15 people come to play. So Z [Yilikal], would you say you’re the captain of pick-up soccer? Yilikal: More or less. Is there another title you would prefer? Yilikal: Honorable captain. What do you think is the secret to Mambas’ success? Divine: I think it’s the spirit. Despite the size of the trophy, the T-shirt, I think we have the spirit to win. If skills get us to point B and we want to get to point C, the passion and the desire to win is what really gets us there. [In the semifinals] there was only one sub, and no goalkeeper, so our co-captain Papa had to stay on goal. The determination to win was what really kept us going. This was always my vision for the Mambas and hopefully see it happen in another time and space, to have it like an empire. Have a Mambas basketball, Mambas soccer, Mambas volleyball. And then maybe once in a month do a community service, go and teach some kids how to play soccer. That would be more than the game itself if you can push it one step further. Did you play all before coming to Macalester? Yilikal: In Ethiopia it’s pretty hard to play, mainly because your parents want you to study and the field is occupied with the big guys. Pretty much I started to play soccer when I came here. But it’s always been a passion.

Even: Back in Norway we had club teams [which I played on] every year until I started college. I was thinking about playing for college but it’s too much of a time commitment and I always like the non-structure and the fun of the game, which is kind of the pickup game. So for me it’s been perfect and Friday 4:30, the highlight of my week the past four years.

Reginald: I’ve been playing for a really long time. The only problem with me playing is that I have a lot of injuries. Two years prior to Macalester I injured myself. That’s why I didn’t play [for Mambas] my first year.

Divine: I’ve played all my life. So has everybody, mostly, in my family. Back home in Tanzania, soccer is the most common sport. You grow up playing soccer, making your own balls. Starts out from paper. Every kid grows up knowing how to make balls and the older they become the better they become at it, and then later they start playing with better balls like leather ones as they move up. But as a kid you start with paper balls, then leather balls, then you buy better shoes; you used to have no shoes. From then I started playing with the big guys. At a younger age you’re not playing with the bigger guys because there’s a high chance of injury, but as you grow older, you’re more confident and stronger. Besides helping you make friends, how have the Mambas been an important part of your time at Mac? Reginald: I think for me it’s always academics, academics, academics. Mambas is one avenue where you go and you play and for that 30 minutes of a game you give it all. If you have a stressful week, you know that there’s going to be a game, you’re gonna run, let out that frustration. On fellow players [all laugh]. There’s been a couple of time I’ve been annoyed, yelling during the IM games. That reminds me of the Macalester Meme: “I don’t always act like an asshole, but when I do, it’s during IM soccer.” Do you think you transform to different people when you’re on the field? Even: You think nothing else matters, [even] your best friend. After graduation, do you want to stay in the US for a while or do you expect to go back to your home countries? Reginald: I want to get my MD Ph.D. first and then go home. I always tell people it depends how much debt grad school brings along.

Yilikal: If it’s too much you can always change your name and just go back. [All laugh] What would your fake name be? Yilikal: Well I have to keep it secret. For a physicist it’s kind of hard to go back home. If I study Engineering it would be a different but as a Physics major if I go back I don’t know what I’m going to do.

Reginald: You could build your own physicist facility. … Another thing, and I’m not thinking about this, but I guess it’s important to mention it, what if you meet someone along the way and end up having a family here? Sometimes it’s better to be here and in a position to help more than to be home. It can be really difficult to help from home; here you can get resources you need.

Yilikal: Life would be pretty great home, but you need a good education here to make money.

Reginald: Z wants to make the money.

Yilikal: Norway is kind of a different story; you can just go and get a job there [all laugh].

Even: I think I might go home eventually but I have an American girlfriend now, so [I’m] stuck. [All laugh] How do you feel about graduating? Divine: Bittersweet.

Reginald: I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes really terrified, but also sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night really excited because I know I don’t have to have to go and sit in a class where the first thing I hear from the professor is how to get an A. … But it’s scary because I won’t have the structure of Macalester. I know Z [Yilikal] will be having a hard time because he cannot do anything for himself.

Yilikal: I can do stuff, man.

Divine: Especially since
he has lived on campus all four years. Are you guys recruiting for next year? Reginald: I guess the juniors will take care of it. We’re sort of done.

Divine: We’re finito.

Reginald: But we hope the Mambas will remain strong. It’s a little bit of a [challenge] with the five of us leaving, but Mambas was here before we came and it will be here after we leave.

Even: I hope when I come back for my reunion in 30, 40 years I can still see the team and the same passion is there; you know, 4:30 every Friday, you go to Shaw Field and you see people running around. Anything else you’d like to add? Divine: I have a question for you. What do you think of the Mambas? … Because I think we have a negative reputation. Why do you think you have a negative reputation? Reginald: The games are intense. Emotions take over, on both sides, and people start kicking each other even when they don’t have the ball. But everyone we play against is our friends, so right after the game we will shake hands. It’s sort of like, “Be friends before the game starts, suspend friendship and kill each other, and then be friends afterwards.”
Yilikal: It’s just part of the game.

Divine: Mambas for life.

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