BRIDGEWATER, Va. – It’s remarkable to witness what playing a sport can do to benefit an individual player or a team.
For Bridgewater junior Derek Newsome, soccer was the reason he boarded a plane for the first time in his life – an event he described as “scary.”
For Newsome and many of his BC teammates, the sport of soccer took them on a 10-day whirlwind tour of Europe, a trip they will always cherish.
“It’s awesome to think that soccer took us to another country,” Bridgewater senior Zach Malpass said. “Guys on this team will remember this trip forever. We visited some amazing sites, experienced a different culture and played a little soccer. It was an awesome trip.”
One Team, One Purpose.
For the Eagles’ men’s soccer team that’s much more than just a catchy little slogan on the front of their practice shirts.
Team chemistry is a focal point for head coach Ryan Bennison and his players and it all started earlier this summer with that trip to Europe.
A total of 19 players and two coaches made the trip with stops in England, Holland, Belgium and Germany dotting the itinerary. The group spent 10 days overseas and was able to mix in three matches against club teams in between traveling and sightseeing.
“It was an awesome experience getting to spend that time with my teammates,” senior Alec Utter said. “We were able to spend a lot of quality time together –just hanging out and having fun.”
Newsome, a junior defender, concurred with his teammate. “It was a huge team-bonding experience. During the college year, I hang out with some guys more than others. On this trip, I got to know some of my teammates a lot of better.”
The three matches against good competition also served as a jump start to the 2013 preseason.
“It was a lot of fun to play against different styles of play and see how their style compared to ours,” Newsome said.
“They play a much more physical style,” explained Utter. “That was something we had to adjust to.”
Soccer, or football as it is called in Europe, is the No. 1 sport overseas. The European players appreciated the Eagles’ passion for the sport.
“They know about our other sports, but I think they could tell by the way we played that we held the same passion for the sport of soccer as they did. I think they respected the fact that we appreciated the game at the same level,” said Utter.
While the 19 veterans returned to the States as a tighter-knit group, there was still work to be done.
When preseason practices started, the task of working on team chemistry started all over again as seven newcomers were added to the mix.
According to Malpass the new players have fit in just fine.
“The main thing is to let the new guys know that we’re happy they are here,” the Eagles captain said. “I remember when I was a freshman, the older players made me feel welcome. You want them to know right away that they are a big part of the team. We’re all in this together.”
Bennison calls this year’s squad the “deepest and most talented” team he has coached in this, his third season at Bridgewater.
The players agree that this year’s squad is loaded with strong players.
“There is a lot of competition on the team for playing time, but it’s a friendly competition,” Utter said. “It’s like no one really has earned a position yet. If you think you are a starter, you better work your tail off to play like a starter because there is someone right behind you pushing you all the time. It’s raised our level of play dramatically. Our work rate in practice is much better than it’s been in the past. When we substitute during matches you’re not going to see a drop-off. The player coming off the bench is going to be able to do the job.”
The Eagles are looking for depth and chemistry to carry the team to another solid season after a 10-8 record a year ago. The 10 wins were the most for the program since the 2005 team hit the 10-win mark.
“When you look at where we were a few years ago and where we are now, there’s no doubt we have made significant strides as a program,” Utter said. “It’s important to take another step forward this season.
Despite the overall success of a year ago, it’s hard to forget that the Eagles lost five of their final six games in 2012.
“I think what you saw last year were glimpses of just how good we could be,” Malpass said. “And you also saw just how bad things could go when we all weren’t playing well and playing together. I believe the guys who are returning learned a lot last season.”
“I’ve only been here two years, but we’re definitely taking the right steps as a program,” Newsome added. “Teams around the ODAC are starting to respect us. We’re not just an easy win on our opponents’ schedule anymore.”
The 2013 schedule begins Friday when the Eagles travel to Rocky Mount, N.C., to face North Carolina Wesleyan. The Bishops posted a 9-3-3 record a year ago and were picked fourth in the USA South Preseason Poll.
Bridgewater plays its home opener Saturday when it hosts Gettysburg. The Bullets, picked eighth in the Centennial Conference Preseason Poll, finished the 2012 season with a 6-10-1 record. Game time Saturday at the Bridgewater soccer field is 4 p.m.