This past Spring Break, the men’s and women’s soccer teams adventured to Europe to experience the cultures of Germany and Italy and play some quality soccer against international competition.
This trip, which is organized every three years by the soccer coaches in conjunction with a group named XL Travels, chooses exciting places for the visitors to see and great opportunities for the athletes to have some cross-cultural competition. This year’s trip featured Munich and Augsburg, located in Germany; Venice, Florence, Montecatini, Lucca and Milan, which are all located in Italy; and the microstate of San Marino.
The adventure started on March 17, and, after an eight-hour flight through the night and a five-hour time change, the traveling crew arrived in Munich for their first day of activities. From that point onward for the next week, the traveling and adventure did not stop, and the group only took the late evenings for rest and relaxation.
After a long day of traveling that Friday, Maryville College Head Soccer Coach Pepe Fernandez scheduled a light training session in order to get the athlete’s legs moving again. Once this training session was completed, the athletes had only 30 minutes to shower and be ready for the next adventure, Mike’s Bike Tour of Munich.
After touring the historic sights of Munich via bicycle, the group loaded back onto the tour bus and headed to attend a soccer match between FC Augsburg and SC Freiburg, two professional teams that are part of the Bundesliga in Germany.
Perhaps the highlight of the group’s time spent in Germany was touring the Neuschwanstein Castle, located in Bavaria, Germany. From the towering castle’s back porch, a stunning view of the German Alps can be seen. These snow-covered Alps were among the very best of views seen throughout the whole trip and can be seen in the photos that accompany this article. Ryan Jorgensen, junior goalkeeper says,
“Exploring the castle and its land was my favorite,” said Ryan Jorgensen, junior goalkeeper. “I can’t even put into words how beautiful it was.”
After an afternoon spent exploring the grounds of the Neuschwanstein Castle, the crew once again returned to our bus, this time to make the six-hour journey to Verona, Italy.
The night after we stayed in Verona, we toured the city of Venice, which was a favorite of many of the group members. Venice is a famous city in Italy, known for the Grand Canal and the network of smaller canals that run through the city.
Through these very canals, the group took tours via gondola boat to see the beautiful architecture and scenery. The group then was set free to shop, explore and—my favorite—eat good pasta and gelato. I will admit to eating seven bowls of gelato throughout the trip, two of which were eaten within an hour there in Venice.
Day two in Italy came with complete exploration of San Marino, which is the size of a small town and is built entirely on top of a mountain in Italy. San Marino is the oldest independently-governed country in all of Europe and the third smallest; it only spans roughly 23 square miles. With its cobblestone, sloping roads and small sidewalk cafés, it won the hearts of all of its visitors. That afternoon, the men had their first international competition and won the match with an excellent showing of skill from all players.
“It was awesome getting to play against international competition with my whole team,” said Cody Vankerschaever, junior center midfielder. “It was one of the best experiences.”
Later on that afternoon, the women players got their first international soccer experience with one of Italy’s best teams. The girls mixed in with Italian players for the team’s training session.
“Those were some of the best women soccer players I’ve ever seen,” Fernandez said. “They were just so fast. I thought we had a good showing from our athletes as well.”
The rigorous pace of the trip kept up, however, and there was not much time to rest before the next day’s activities. Our sixth day was spent in Florence. Here, we were free to roam and explore for the whole day. Some went to visit the famous Statue of David, completed by Michelangelo in 1504. Others explored the city’s marvelous and intricate cathedrals.
“One of my favorite memories was when the whole group of girls spent the afternoon shopping in Florence, “said junior defender Caitlyn Kenney. “I got to know some girls I hadn’t known very well before the trip, and it was really fun to have a girls’ day.”
After a day of adventuring through the city, the men’s team faced their second competition. Although the score did not sway in their favor, their performance was exemplary.
The next day the group went on their second bike tour around the small town of Lucca, Italy. This town is fortified on all sides by a large stone wall, which served in the Medieval times as a strong protection. Now, however, the border, which spans roughly 20 feet in width, is used as a walking and biking path. During our tour, we were taken along this path, through the small stone roads of the city, and even beneath the city in the underground passageways.
“Lucca was my favorite city,” Vankerschaever said. “It was excluded from the large, commercial cities, so it had its own traditional Italian culture. It wasn’t very touristy, either, so that was nice.”
Aside from the bike tour, the group also experienced a wine tasting and lunch at a family-owned vineyard and winery. This was a cool experience for all of the visitors, because many say a trip to Italy isn’t complete without tasting their delicious wine. A few hours later, the women’s team was scheduled to train with another Italian team.
“I loved playing with the second team,” Kenney said. “They were so welcoming and caring. We couldn’t communicate very well, but we could all understand soccer. We had a dinner afterwards together and spoke with the girls as much as possible. It was a great experience.”
Our final day was spent in Milan, Italy. This big city had very modern and commercial characteristics, much unlike the towns we had previously toured. This city was lined with huge trendy clothing stores, chic shoe stores and high-end suit fitters.
The roads were much larger and well-kept than we had experienced before in Italy, and many more people spoke English than any other city we visited. This city had a New York style and feel to it, which was a drastic difference from the other towns. This day was a shoppers dream.
“Traveling abroad was the best thing that could happen for the players that went, because we were all doing so much together,” Jorgensen said. “I bonded with people I didn’t knew very well. It’ll definitely help on and off the field. The more you know your teammates off the field, the better you’ll do on the field.”
“For a lot of us, it was the first time we had traveled outside of our country, so being able to experience that together was cool,” said Vankerscheaver in agreement. ““I learned some new words and phrases in German and Italian. I also learned how to maneuver a train station in another country, which was intimidating and stressful at first.”
Both Jorgensen and Vankerschaever agree that there was a lot to be learned from traveling abroad.
For many of the players and family members that went on the trip, it was the adventure of a lifetime.