Blog Written by Elinor Priest
After an amazing trip to Spain we are now on our way home. The last 10 days have been a whirlwind of activity and new experiences for our entire group. The trip was the perfect length—just enough to get a taste of Spanish culture but long enough that most of us are ready to come home. Soccer-wise we ended our European trip with a 3-1 winning record and our only loss was at the feet of FC Barcelona.
On May 18th we played Badalona FC. We got up in the morning and bused to the town of Badalona, however there was a communication mix-up and we got there a few hours early. I guess it was closer that we thought it would be. With the extra time, we drove to the seaside and walked about on the beach for a little while. We were far enough from Barcelona that you could see the city down the coast. Then we went to the Badalona Museum; its main exhibit featured artifacts and relics from when the Romans lived in the city. It was astounding to realize that the Romans actually built what we were seeing. At home, learning about the Roman civilization was always an interesting unit in history, but it's so distanced from where we are in the world. It was amazing to realize that they had walked and lived exactly where we were standing when we looked at the bits of reconstructed roads and the real artifacts that the museum laid out.
After the museum, we played our third game here in Spain. In the first half it became clear that our weight training is a great asset. Our strength and physicality broke their rhythm and allowed us to power through their players. In the first half, Savannah Berry scored a composed goal—curving a ball past the keeper with her left foot. In the second half, Haley Wingender came up big with two goals—one from Shawnee Morgan laying a ball back from the end line and another where she broke away from the defense to finish the scoring at 3-0. After the game, we mingled with the other team. There was also a small press conference where (head coach) Andre (Luciano) said a few words about what a valuable experience playing here in Spain is for our program, and inviting the players of Badalona FC to visit Flagstaff at any time. He and the director of the club exchanged symbolic keys of their respective towns, and we all ate food.
After the game we returned to the hotel, showered, spruced up a bit, and then walked through the city to a Flamenco show. We ate dinner in the theater and watched the incredible dancing. We saw male and female performers dancing to a live seven-man band that sang, clapped, and played a variety of instruments. The flamenco dancers wore a type of high-heeled tap shoe that made every step echo and drew attention to just how fast they were moving their feet. After watching for a good hour it amazed me how much their legs and feet must hurt after their performances. Another interesting part of the show was when one of the dancers asked the audience where they were from; along with us, in the audience were groups from Russia, Italy, Japan, and France. After the show Andre joked that instead of our usual fitness tests, next fall we would just Flamenco instead.
The next day was centered completely around FC Barcelona soccer. In the morning we had some free time to walk around, but almost all the shops were closed because it was Sunday. We ate and dressed up in all our recently bought FCB regalia. Then we had the opportunity to go watch the same women's FCB team that we played on Wednesday play in the Copa Del Rei quarterfinals. It was an honor to be invited back onto the training grounds to see them play again. The game went into overtime, and then the women's FCB team scored twice in rapid succession to win 2-0. It was a little overwhelming to realize that the coach of the women's team, who coached against us earlier in the week, also discovered Messi and signed him on a napkin when he was a youth.
Later in the day we got back into the bus to go to another soccer game—this time, the FCB men's last La Liga game against Valladolid CF. The atmosphere was similar to that of a US football game—thousands of people milling around dressed head to toe in team gear and pumped full of team spirit. And, as a theme of the trip, it was raining. We all brought our rain jackets because, at this point, we were prepared for the city's weather—but as we got to the stadium the rain became a downpour. We got to our seats, the third to highest row from the top. Our tour guide a few days earlier hadn't lied, even at the nosebleeds, there isn't bad seat in the stadium.
Before the game started it was a little hard to tell which player was which, but when the game began their characteristic play made it clear who was who. It gave me chills to realize that we were really watching the true Barcelona team in person. I've watched this team play, as we all have, for years and seeing them in person after seeing them on TV or online for so long was amazing. Throughout the game, the crowd was chanting songs that we had tried to learn throughout the week. We joined in when we could and we also joined in for the longest Wave I've ever seen; it went around the entire stadium six times. Barca scored two goals and kept possession handily most of the game. Towards the end of the game Valladolid CF got a PK and made the game 2-1.
After the game was the La Liga championship presentation. Some of the players brought out their family and although Messi didn't play in the game, we saw him holding his son during the presentation on the large screen. The trophy was presented to the team, speeches were made (but not understood by most of us), then sprayers of confetti went off and the crowd went wild. To our surprise, the stadium lights went out and colored light designs on field came on. Then an explosion came from above us—a firework show began that rivaled most Fourth of July shows. It went on for 10 minutes at least and we were enveloped in smoke before the finale lit up the entire sky. We couldn't have asked for a better game to attend. On the way back to our hotel the clock struck midnight, which meant that Lauren Weaver turned 21. We've had quite the smattering of birthdays on this trip, but once more we made sure to sing her happy birthday.
Yesterday was our final day in Barcelona, which fell on a Spanish holiday. We had the day until 3 p.m. to do as we wished, but there was barely anything open. Some people walked around regardless and a large group took the metro to the waterfront where there was a lone mall that was still open. At 3:30 we had our pregame meal for our last game, then got taped and ready for the game. We drove through the gorgeous green countryside that had both little century old farmhouses as well as modern industry to UE VIC. There seems to be a trend here of giant fields. We've played every game here on turf, probably because of the horrid weather we've been having. Last night we were supposed to play on a grass field in stadium that can hold 12,000, but it apparently was under two inches of water and we were relocated to a different stadium with an artificial field.
We ended our Spanish games with a bang. Although it was 0-0 at halftime, in the second half we scored six goals. Malia Tano started off the scoring with a volley off a corner kick ricochet, then Nicole Sherwin and Torey Braly joined in—all three scoring twice in less than 45 minutes. The trio's goals ended our trip on the right note that feels like a good omen for next year. Last season we had a dearth of goals and although the competition here plays a very different style than what we'll see in Big Sky, it feels good to end our scoring dry spell.
This trip has been absolutely incredible. The 25 of us girls have gotten closer than ever and we had a few family members that came along that have been an absolute joy to get to get to know. Donna—a booster of NAU—and her daughter Denver Falz have been a ton of fun to have along, and it's been great to see our staff in a different setting. Andre intended to give us enough of a cultural taste that it would inspire us to return here some day—and he certainly achieved that. It's a blast to see a culture so intertwined with soccer. We not only got to see one of the best teams in the world play, but the games we competed in were competitive, fun, and a great learning experience for all of us.
Currently, we are sitting in the plane waiting to take off. We've been delayed and aren't excited for the 20 plus hours of straight travel ahead of us, but the past ten days have been worth it and we're looking forward to summer looming ahead of us. It doesn't get better than the last week and a half. We had our small glitches and tensions that are inherent to any long trip, but everyday gave us new memories and experiences of a lifetime. Once more, I would like to thank everyone who made this trip to Spain possible. Our coaching staff put in an inordinate amount of time organizing and planning this, our families and friends contributed to make this financially possible, and our head coach Andre Luciano had the vision to make it all possible.
Hope you enjoyed the blog and adiós a España!