- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Taking a road trip to Pennsylvania is one thing, but taking a trip over the Atlantic Ocean to Spain is an entirely different matter.
Many members of the St. Mary’s College of Maryland men’s soccer program strayed from their normal multi-hour bus rides during the regular season and took a flight to Spain this summer for a one-week team bonding experience.
In Spain from Aug. 3 to 11, the Seahawks, led by third-year head coach Alun Oliver, toured sites, experienced a different culture and played three international friendly matches in preparing for the 2013 regular season, which is set to begin Aug. 30 at the Elmer Lord Memorial Classic in Salisbury against Hunter College (N.Y.).
“It was a fantastic experience,” Oliver said. “Not just from a cultural perspective; I mean it’s a completely different culture from the people to the soccer, especially, but it had more to do with the team bonding. That was probably the best thing that we got out of it. Through all of the practices and games and the tours that we took, we were doing it together and having a group experience like that really solidified our team.”
The best place to build a soccer team is on the soccer field, and in Spain, the Seahawks played three international clubs and finished the trip with an 0-2-1 record against Club Deportivo Palafolls, CD Blanes and UE Sant Andreu.
Seahawks senior goalkeeper Austin Brown said he and his teammates enjoyed the trip and that it was a mix of things that made the one-week trip special.
“It was to build relationships with your teammates: you’re living with them for a week,” Brown said. “That was just one aspect of it and probably the biggest one for us. Going out and seeing the world is another part of it, and finally, experiencing soccer in another part of the world.”
Brown said he and his teammates learned a great deal about international soccer, explaining that international teams were skilled in possessing the ball, an aspect of play that he already has witnessed leak into his team on the field.
“It is a completely different ballgame as we know it,” he added. “It’s so different, and the way they possess the ball and distribute everything is just insane.”
The way the Seahawks lost two of the games in Spain provided flashbacks to the 2012 season, in which the Seahawks lost seven games in the final minutes or in overtime, according to Brown.
However, junior defender Alex Driessen, who did not attend the Spain trip, said that the makeup of the 2013 team will help to turn some late-game losses into late-game wins.
“We wanted to make sure that we had a lot of depth on the team, and I think that we definitely have that this year,” Driessen said. “There are a lot of guys that can come off of the bench and fill in roles. Hopefully, this year, we’ll be able to turn those losses into wins.
That depth also leads to a competitive feel surrounding the team this year, in Driessen’s opinion.
“It’s definitely an exciting thing to have options,” he said. “It helps in practice because we keep each other competitive in practice and making sure that everybody is fighting for their spots.”
After explaining that he walked away with a new appreciation of living in America after the trip, Brown said that one of his most memorable moments from the trip includes snorkeling in the Mediterranean Sea.
But if Brown, Driessen, Oliver and the Seahawks can win a Capital Athletic Conference championship, the memories of the time in Spain will be linked to an even greater memory of hoisting a trophy.
St. Mary’s College of Maryland men’s soccer
Head coach: Alun Oliver (third season)
Last year: 4-13, 1-5 (tied for sixth in Capital Athletic Conference)
Athletes to watch: GK Austin Brown (Sr.), D Pierre Zibi (Sr.), D Alex Driessen (Jr.), F Zach Fontenot (Fr.), M Nick Tait (Fr.)
Key personnel losses: F Frank VanGessel (All-CAC), M Ryan Plaisance (All-CAC)
Strengths: Oliver said he believes that his defensive organization is strong among the back four players. In the four, Oliver has experience in three seniors and one junior. The cherry on the top of his experienced defense comes in the form of senior goalkeeper Austin Brown. Oliver said that opponents will have a tough time against his defense.
Weaknesses: Oliver wants his team to be more creative and capitalize on chances they have on offense. Creativity cannot be had if there is no possession of the ball, which he wants his team working on, too.
He also wants his team to improve at the end of games after losing multiple games last season in the late stages of the contest.
“That’s the mental toughness right there,” Oliver said. “We have been working on that since the season ended, and we have to stay focused for a 90-minute game.”
Coach’s comments: “I think making the playoffs is a must, and that is our goal. ... Anything can happen in the playoffs. Our number one goal is to make the playoffs and to compete and to get through to that championship game and compete for the CAC championship.”
Key games: Sept. 28 at Marymount (Va.), Oct. 16 at York (Pa.), Oct. 19 at Frostburg State, Oct. 27 vs. Salisbury, Oct. 30 vs. Christopher Newport (Va.)
JAMES A. McCRAY III