For two weeks in July, three Woolwich girls were involved in a cultural, historical and sporting exchange unlike anything they had ever experienced in their lives. Krista Wiens and Emma Leger of Elmira and Melanie Schwartzentruber from St. Jacobs – along with the rest of their Woolwich Wolfpack U16 teammates – travelled to Germany and several other European nations in a bid to not only watch Canada compete at the Women’s World Cup of soccer, but to learn a little more about the world.
Head coach and German-native Markus Philipp saw it as a prospect he couldn’t pass up.
“I felt it was a tremendous opportunity for a youth team, many of whom had never been out of the country or some even not out of the province or on a plane, to go on a trip like that and to see the 16 best teams in the world compete for the crown of our sport,” said Philipp, who immigrated to Canada about eight years ago.
“I was in Germany during the men’s World Cup in 2006 and it was an amazing atmosphere.”
The girls left Canada on July 2, and returned last Tuesday. While away, they not only had the chance to see the best women in the world compete but they were able to explore Germany and absorb its rich culture and history.
The team stayed at a youth hostel near Philipp’s hometown of Wiesbaden, close to
Frankfurt, the main site for the World Cup.
The Wolfpack played three friendly matches while in Germany, two against German clubs (4-0 and 3-1 wins) and they tied a team from British Columbia. They also got to watch five World Cup matches, including the Canadian’s 1-0 loss to Nigeria, the semi-final match between Sweden and Japan and Japan’s thrilling 3-1 shootout victory over the United States in the finals.
The team sat in the first few rows directly behind the goal during the finals, and all three local girls said the match was one of the highlights of the trip. The girls also met with Team Canada and exchanged shirts with some of the players and chatted with many of their idols.
“It was neat to see that they made it and one day we can eventually do the same,” said Wiens, who had never travelled on a plane prior to this trip.
During the two weeks they were there, the team visited the city of Dresden, which was famously carpet-bombed during the Second World War then rebuilt, and they also saw the Cologne cathedral and visited the Dachau concentration camp, near Munich.
“It was really interesting because we just finished Grade 10 history and we had talked a lot about World War II and World War I,” said Leger, the team’s captain. “We visited the concentration camp and although our time there was brief it was very powerful and meaningful to be in a space where millions of others have walked before.”
The head coach said it was important to not only make the exchange about soccer, but about the larger cultural experience as well.
“Playing soccer was not really that important for us, we wanted to stay fit and play a few games, but we can play in Canada every weekend and we didn’t need to go to Germany to play soccer,” said Philipps.
“We wanted the girls to see the top-level of soccer and how they train and compose themselves, and on the other hand we wanted to take the opportunity, being in Germany and Europe, to expose the girls to the culture and to the history.”
The team also visited historical sites in Amsterdam, such as Anne Frank House, and Paris, including the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre.
The players say that the visit played a big role in helping the team come together as one unit and to become closer friends and teammates than they already were. The head coach strongly believes that to build a successful team the players must know and respect each other, which the trip has certainly helped to accomplish.
“It would have been impossible not to bond the team further. The girls really need to know each other and they really need to have each other’s back and they need to respect each other.”
The team was promoted this season to Level Three of the Western Ontario Youth Soccer League and sports an impressive 9-5-3 record, including a 2-1 victory over the Sarnia Spirit on Monday night – a team that had not lost in nine matches to start the season after four wins and five draws.
The players agreed the trip played a big role in bringing them all together, although they did admit that being with the same people for two weeks straight wasn’t always fun and games.
“We had some rough days here and there, but we were spending 24-hours a day with the same people, so we got to know the things that bother us about each other and I guess that’s always good,” laughed Leger.
“We were like siblings.”