Scandinavian tour an eye opener for Horns
Scandinavia Tour 2011 – call it an applied study course for the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns women’s soccer program.
The Horns just recently returned from a 10-day trip through Denmark and Sweden, an invaluable experience of exhibition matches, training opportunities and sight-seeing trips that they expect will reap dividends once the ball is again kicked closer to home this fall.
“It was phenomenal,” says Horns head coach Ilsa Wong. “We had the opportunity to see some top level professional women’s soccer in Sweden, and for our girls to watch that level of play, I think it was a real wow moment for them. It was great for me to see their response to that incredible level of soccer.”
The tour offered the Horns three exhibition matches. They won the first, 5-1, over a 2nd division Swedish professional team, and lost the next two, including a 6-0 shutout at the hands of the Danish national U18 champions and a 3-1 decision to a Danish professional team’s scout squad.
“It was a much better experience than the tour we had three years ago in England,” says Wong. “It was a good level of soccer for them and nothing really outside of the level they’d participate in here in Canada. They were definitely challenged, especially against the youth squad. It’s funny, to see them
before the game, they are just these skinny little blond girls and then they get on the field and all of a sudden they are these tough, fast amazing players. It was a very good experience.”
That, in essence, was the goal of the trip, to give the Horns an experience they couldn’t find here in Canada. It opened their minds to new ideas and new possibilities.
“It was quite eye opening to see the way they coach versus the way we’re coached here,” says Horns captain Kathy Curtis, who also took part in the English tour. “Then playing against the junior national team, some of them were 14 years old and they were so good. It was really neat to see that level of play in such a young team. These girls probably could have taken down any team in CIS.”
Wong says that many of the girls came away with a new appreciation for their sport, and it raises the bar on their expectation level for what can be achieved.
“Seeing how other countries play your sport and the passion they have for it is invaluable,” she says. “I think sometimes we can get complacent in thinking that post-secondary sport is something you just do as an activity. If we can show some of these student athletes that it’s a way of life for some people, it raises the standard for them.”
The Horns planned and fundraised for the excursion for the last two-plus years. They served as bleacher cleaners at Pronghorns home basketball games, provided the labour for the Books on Beds program offered by the University Bookstore, sold scarves, ran booster club events and participated in Operation Red Nose.
For Curtis, a defender, she says the experience pushed her to a new level and she could see the rest of the team raise its play simply by virtue of trying to keep up to the competition.
“Playing the whole 90 minutes against a team the calibre of the junior national team really pushes you, but that’s good. I always find my best games are when you’re playing the best teams. I could see in the rest of the girls, that was like a light bulb that went off.”
The only downside to the trip is that it couldn’t be scheduled before the start of the Canada West season.
“We’d really love to bring a lot of that back and use it for next year but it’s hard because now we have a break and we’re not back again until the fall,” says Curtis. “It’d be nice to go on that trip in July, get that experience and then go right into the season.”
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• The tour took the club through Copenhagen and Kolding in Denmark, as well as Malmo, Sweden. The team visited castles and was able to dip their toes in the water at the Skagen Odde, where the Kattegat and the Skagerak seas meet.
• The Horns were able to train at the FCN Academy in Copenhagen. The professional men’s team boasts Canadian star Patrice Bernier.
• Wong says the program offers an international trip every three years, something that serves as a strong recruiting tool. “The fact we do it every three years means players will get an opportunity to participate at least once if not more, and in a way it sort of shows them where some of their fundraising dollars go.”
• A total of 26 people were on the trip, including some parents. Soon, they will begin planning their next excursion in 2014.
This story first appeared in the Legend. For a look at the Legend in a flipbook format, follow this link.