While most Swarthmore students were still home and enjoying the last three weeks of summer vacation, the returning members of the Swarthmore women’s soccer team were on their way to compete in a competitive pre-season schedule. Except they didn’t return to the well-known grounds of Swarthmore. Instead, the team hopped across the Atlantic, venturing to the soccer hotbed of Spain. The women’s team embarked on this journey more than three weeks before most students were due back. On Thursday, August 7th, the team departed from the Philadelphia International Airport on a direct flight to Barcelona to begin their adventure.
The women had little to no time to adjust to the drastic time change, as their next morning in Spain was welcomed with a bright and early 8 a.m. practice. But their early morning hard work didn’t go unrewarded, for their first two morning practices were followed by guided tours of the city. The team was able to take in the city as they experienced the native culture and traditions of the people, including bullfighting rings and authentic Spanish food and an environment that was foreign to many players on the team. Some highlights of the trip included personalized tours of FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou and Real Madrid’s Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, sightseeing through both Madrid and Toledo, participating in the Assumption of Mary (a religious event) and a visiting the stunning Catalan beach town of Sitges.
“I think my favorite part of the trip was the scavenger hunt we did in Madrid,” Rebecca Magier ’16 stated. “Our team was split up into three groups and we each had different tasks that we had to complete,” she added. “It was fun trying to communicate with the language barrier and try to navigate the streets of an unknown city,” she added.
But in addition to enjoying the sights and team bonding opportunities Spain had to offer, the team also competed in three matches while on their trip. Their final record was 1-1-1. However, all three of the teams they played were incredibly talented. As a special, but challenging experience, the team competed against one of the top soccer teams in Spain, which has even defeated teams affiliated with FC Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Head Coach Todd Anckaitis described the strength of the team’s competition. Recapping the week, he said that, “We beat the non-professional team we played 4-1, tied the professional team that is in the middle of the La Liga table and lost to the best team we played in our last match. The highlight though was clearly our last match against Rayo Vallecano, a team that had finished first in La Liga in three of the last six years (with two fourth place finishes and a sixth place finish) which means they played in the Champions League.” Anckaitis went on to comment that his players described competing against Rayo Vallecano as “inspirational.”
Magier described the competition, saying, “the last team we played had a very different playing style than ours. Some of the girls on that team had been playing together since they were five years old. They had a lot of practice together,” she said.
Anckaitis agreed that the Spanish teams exhibited unique playing styles, saying, “The teams in Spain didn’t play with the same fitness or physicality as we typically do here in the States. One team in particular dove for a foul at every chance [and got the calls].” While occasionally frustrating, the contrast in styles made for matches that were “great to watch, skillful and tactful.”
Though the teams they faced were challenging, Magier noted how the team continued to work together, pointing out that “everyone got equal playing time.” Magier added, “We hadn’t played together in a long time, so it took a while to get accustomed to playing again. However, everyone stepped up and contributed equally to games.” Overall, the team was satisfied with its performance and felt the trip was helpful in building team chemistry as well as game experience.
Thus far, their pre-season preparation has proved to be crucial to the team’s early season success. The team is currently undefeated with huge victories over Widener University (1-0), Wellesley College (2-0), and Wesley College (4-1). The defense has been rock solid, allowing just one goal thus far. Additionally, Katie Dougherty ’18 and Emma Sindelar ’15 have combined for three goals this season, leading the Garnet offense.
After a successful 2013-2014 season where the team finished 10-6-2 and advanced to the second round of the ECAC tournament, the players are excited to push even further. They are already almost a third of their way toward their entire season win total of last year and the Centennial Conference season hasn’t even begun yet. With six seniors and seven juniors on the roster, the team is full of experience, leadership and potential. Saturday, September 13 will mark their first away game at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J.. After traveling to Immaculata on Tuesday, September 16, Swarthmore opens conference play at home, under the lights at 7 p.m. vs. Franklin and Marshall.