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European vacation? Not quite for UMD soccer team

After busing and hiking through the Austrian Alps during a 10-day preseason trip through Europe, the hills of Duluth aren’t as daunting to the Minnesota Duluth women’s soccer program anymore.

The Alps put Duluth’s hills, among other things, in perspective.

“Going hiking in the mountains was breathtaking. It was a great experience,” UMD junior goalkeeper Marissa Rosa said Monday morning during the team’s media day on campus.

“I loved Austria. The mountains were just amazing. Driving was just amazing, looking out the windows. San Marino was just gorgeous, too, because it overlooked Italy, gorgeous views.”

The Bulldogs, who begin 2014 ranked No. 8 by the National Soccer Coaches Association, began their preseason officially on Wednesday evening, followed by two-a-days since. But before practices officially began last week, UMD took 18 returning players on a 10-day trip through Germany, Austria and Italy.

NCAA rules allow Division II teams to go on foreign tours once every four years, with the Bulldogs last visiting Italy and Switzerland in 2010. The senior class of 2014 spearheaded this excursion, according to head coach Greg Cane.

The highlight for many was the Alps in Austria, as well as the authentic Italian food in Italy.

“Austria blew me away just because of the landscape,” said Jennifer Smith, a senior midfielder and captain. “We loved the food in Italy, obviously. I just think all the things outside of soccer were really fun, really fun to get cultural experiences in.”

In addition to sightseeing, the squad played one exhibition game in Austria and two in Italy against European clubs, scoring two draws and a victory.

Compared to Americans’ faster, attacking style of soccer, European teams play a more tactical, possession style. Smith said playing against that type of soccer helped improve the Bulldogs’ patience.

“I think our competition was just right for us. It definitely challenged us to play a little more patiently,” Smith said. “Our young players really stepped up more than I expected.”

While soccer and sightseeing were key components of the trip, the No. 1 thing the Bulldogs brought back from Europe was chemistry, much of which was fostered on the long bus rides through Germany, Austria and Italy.

“They enjoy their time together,” Cane said. “That is very valuable for the fabric of the team.”

That chemistry will be necessary if the Bulldogs hope to repeat, or even build on, the accomplishments of 2013.

UMD tied a program record of 17 wins last year and advanced all the way to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, falling 2-1 to Grand Valley State at Malosky Stadium. The Bulldogs finished the season ranked seventh.

Cane said the team won’t dwell on the success and heartbreak of last season, but he also won’t let his team forget it either.

“The reminder of how it happened, that’s a resource you can mine regularly,” he said. “Anytime you get to the point we were at emotionally, and then there is an end that maybe isn’t on your terms, hopefully that is something that can prove as a motivating tool for you. I think this team does have that character to pick up from that and want more.”

UMD senior forward Maureen Stormont is using 2013 as motivation this year. Returning to the Elite Eight is much more important to the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference preseason offensive player of the year than the two program records that are in her reach for career goals and points.

“If we got just as far, I’d be just as happy,” Stormont said. “I think that is a lot of motivation for us returners. We know what we can do and how to do it.”

The Bulldogs will continue with two-a-days until classes begin next Tuesday. Regular-season action begins at 5 p.m. Sept. 5 against Southwest Baptist in the Central Missouri Opener in Warrensburg, Mo.

Matt Wellens

College hockey reporter for the Duluth News Tribune covering the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs men's and women's teams, as well as the NCAA Division III programs at St. Scholastica and Wisconsin-Superior.

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