Spain - 2012
Keeping with a tradition, Berry's men's soccer made an international trip this past spring, traveling to Spain. This marked the program's third trip overseas during Berry Head Coach Richard Vardy's tenure.
View Spain Trip Photo Gallery HERE
It had been several years since the men's soccer team's last trip outside of the States. The most recent travel came in 2007 when that year's team went to Costa Rica. There was never any concern that the team had forgotten about making a similar trip again, though.
"The guys on the team always kept it in the back of their minds that we do this every four or five years so they knew that it was coming up," Vardy said. "We had been saving money through fundraising for a few years because we knew that we'd like to take a trip again. It's something that I enjoy, and I know the team enjoys it too."
Junior Kyle Fitting said the team started having discussions about this trip in the fall of 2011.
"First, we had to decide where we wanted to go," said Fitting. "Once we decided where we wanted to go, it was down to talking about payments and if we wanted to go during the summer or on spring break."
Vardy said several locations were taken into consideration before the team made its choice.
"We had originally looked at Brazil and some other places, but at the end of the day we chose Spain because the Spanish teams are probably the best teams in the world right now," Vardy said.
Roughly three months after finalizing everything, the team departed from Atlanta, Ga., on Friday, March 2. After an eight-hour flight to Paris, France the group boarded a connecting flight to Barcelona, Spain. At the end of this travel, the group touched down for good around lunchtime on Saturday.
Much of Saturday was spent getting acclimated to the surroundings, Vardy said. But the team did manage to catch its first professional soccer game that night.
"We actually ended up going to watch a pro game that evening," said Vardy. "It becomes a long day with jet lag and stuff, but everyone was so excited it wasn't a problem. We went to see Barcelona play in their big stadium so that really started the trip off on a good note. The soccer games over there don't start until 10 at night."
The entire gameday atmosphere left an impression on sophomore Josh Fancher.
"Being able to go to any type of pro soccer games over there is so much different than any type of sporting event have here in America," Fancher said. "It's kind of like SEC football, NFL and MLB all combined together in one event."
On Sunday the team took the time to do some workouts in addition to taking a tour of Barcelona later on.
"In the morning, we did a training session just to get us moving around a little bit and kicking the ball and getting ready for our scrimmage. And then we took a guided tour of Barcelona," Vardy said. "It's one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and there are lots of cultural, historical and interesting sights."
During the next day, the team took a tour of Barcelona FC's stadium and then later played its first scrimmage against AEM Lleida.
"In the evening, we traveled out of town for our first scrimmage. We won, 4-0, and played pretty well. Once again these were long days," said Vardy. "You get up and do a couple of tours, spend some time in the city and it's surprising how much just walking around and eating all of the food takes it out of you. And then you play these games at nine o'clock at night and get home at one or two in the morning. They become very long days. You pack a lot of stuff in there, but it's part of the experience. It's a lot of fun."
The following morning, the team took a bus trip out of Barcelona to visit a monastery.
"It's called Montserrat Monastery. It's a big 'ole monastery on this hilltop," Vardy said. "Really beautiful mountain range. It's just something different for the guys to see."
Right after this sightseeing, the team returned to Barcelona and headed straight toward its second scrimmage, which was against Terrassa CF.
"We lost, 1-0, but it was probably thebest game. We played really good opposition in a nice little stadium that probably holds 12,000 people. Obviously it wasn't full," laughed Vardy. "It was nice to be in a more professional environment. It was a good growing experience for us."
In the early parts of Wednesday, the team boarded a train from Barcelona to Sitges.
"It's a nice, seaside village," said Vardy of Sitges. "The guys got to have a lazy day and hang out at the beach for a few hours."
The time spent at the beach did not last forever though. Soon enough, the team was back in Barcelona to see a Champions League matchup between Barcelona FC and Bayer Leverkusen, a German team.
"Barcelona won, 7-1, and Lionel Messi, probably the best player in the world, scored five goals," said Vardy. "It was a really good, historical event for the guys to be a part of so that was exciting."
"It was so cool. Seeing a Champions League game is a big deal, especially one where Messi breaks the record for goals scored in one game," Weeks said. "You're seeing the best in the world playing right in front of you with a whole stadium that loves soccer so much."
Waking up early yet again, the team started its Thursday by going on a flight to Madrid. Once they were there, the team took a tour of Real Madrid's stadium. In the midst of going around Madrid, they became aware of something.
"As we were exploring the downtown area, we realized that there was a pro soccer game in Madrid that night that wasn't part of our tour. After dinner, we hopped on the local subway system and went over to the stadium of Aletico Madrid and bought tickets for that game," said Vardy. "It was a really good environment. There were good fans. It was more of an intense soccer culture there, with more of your working class soccer fans, cheering the team on and singing songs. It wasn't planned; we just went with the flow on that day. It was a nice bonus for the group to be able to see that."
Much of Friday was spent in the town of Toledo before the team's final scrimmage.
"It's a beautiful, old, historic town. It used to be the capital of Spain many years ago. It's kind of a walled city on the hill with cathedrals and castles," Vardy said. "We got a guided tour of that and spent a few hours there. And then that evening we had our third scrimmage of the tour. I believe we won, 3-1. It was a nice way to finish the tour."
Fancher said the team really came together through those scrimmages.
"There wasn't as much pressure; we're just out there playing. Over there we just got to have fun and play," said Fancher of playing in Spain. "Coach kind of let us go and didn't give us too much direction."
Days Eight & Nine
The final day of the trip consisted of more touring around Madrid. Before the team knew it, the time had come to return to America. The team arrived back to Georgia on Sunday, March 11.
Going on this trip appears to have a positive effect on the team's chemistry each year, Vardy said.
"Overall, it's still team bonding. It's guys going through shared experiences and enjoying time together. We've always a good time on these trips, and for some reason the in years when we've come back from these trips we've always had really good soccer seasons," said Vardy. "Having those extra scrimmages gives a lot of the team some very good experience."
From Weeks' perspective, the trip provided a neat finishing touch to his student-athlete days at Berry.
"I think it was a great conclusion to my soccer career here," Weeks said. "It was my first time ever to Spain, and it was with a bunch of my brothers on the team."
Fitting described the trip as "interesting."
"Just seeing how different other countries are from the United States and how differently people live their lives," said Fitting of what he will remember from this trip.
Can I Get an Encore?
When asked if a repeat trip could be in the works for the men's soccer program, Vardy sounded rather certain of it.
"Definitely. From a selfish, personal point of view, I love traveling and soccer. The NCAA allows us to do these trips every four years so hopefully everyone that comes through Berry and spends four years as a soccer player will get to experience some sort of international tour," Vardy said. "It's something we've done three times now, and we'd like to keep it going. Come 2015 or 2016, I'd like to be able to take the team somewhere international again."
Italy and France - 2003
The Berry College men’s soccer team had an experience of a lifetime in May, 2003, as it traveled to Europe to play scrimmages, watch professional matches, and enjoy the culture. Spending nine full days overseas, the team packed in a tight schedule, which saw it play four friendly matches, see three professional matches, and visited many different cities.
First up was Italy, and using the beautiful lake town of Como as a base, the Vikings spent five days in the area. On the first full day, the team had a training session before heading to the San Siro Stadium in Milan to watch a pro game between Inter Milan and Parma. Straight from there, they travelled to Verona to watch a second division game between Hellas Verona and Salatarna. The next two days saw scrimmages against semi-professional local sides, Turate and Pro Lissone. The team played well in both but struggled to score and lost both games 3-1 and 4-0 respectively. In the second game especially, the non-stop pace of the trip could be seen in the legs of the players.
During this period the team had sightseeing tours of Como, Milan, the San Siro Stadium, and Lugano in Switzerland. On Tuesday, we found out that we had been able to get tickets for the Champions League semi-final second-leg between crosstown rivals AC Milan and Inter Milan. This was by far the highlight of the trip. The stadium was almost full three hours before the kickoff and the atmosphere was breathtaking. We had great seats in the AC Milan section of the ground. The game was tense and finished 1-1 with AC Milan winning overall. The stadium and the fans made this an evening that none of us will ever forget.
Then it was over to France to stay in Cap d’Ail, which is a steep 10 minute walk from Monaco. This was our base for the rest of the trip. We had day trips to Monaco, Nice, and Cannes, as well as two more scrimmage games against local teams. We lost a great game to Menton 3-2 and then ended things in a good way, beating AS Roquebourne 5-3.\
Costa Rica - 2007
In August of 2007 the Berry College men’s soccer team embarked on the programs second international tour, this time heading to Costa Rica. This time was a new experience, especially as it was to play a big part of the team’s pre-season preparation.
The goals of the trip were to play in good competitive matches, to help the team in its bonding experiences, expose the student-athletes to a part of the world they may not otherwise get a chance to see, and to generally have as much fun as possible. Three scrimmage matches were played against professional reserve teams (Heredia, Brujas, and University of Costa Rica) and the team came out of these exciting games with a 1-1-1 record.
The bonding experiences came in abundance for the team. Learning to surf together, trips to volcanoes and hot springs, the rainforest canopy tour, and attending two professional games were all positive group experiences.