The Loyola women’s soccer team traveled across Italy over spring break, discovering a new culture and eating gelato while learning more about soccer and each other.
Head coach Barry Bimbi said the trip was executed well because his players are trustworthy and have good chemistry. He said the trip exposed his players to a new corner of the world while helping them bond away from their busy college schedules.
Leading his third team trip to Italy, Bimbi said the opportunity allows him to show his players new walks of life and that the trip serves as a recruiting tool for his program.
“With this group, a lot of these girls have never been out of the country,” Bimbi said. “[I want] to show them a different part of the world and a different culture that people live in. It’s a great recruiting tool to say within your four years here you’re taking a trip to Italy.”
Before leaving Chicago, Bimbi said his players created presentations about each city they would visit, helping the team learn about Italian history and culture. Senior midfielder and marketing major Aly Kilburg said she enjoyed learning about Italy, as the presentations gave the team a better understanding of Italian culture.
Bimbi said the team also had to handle paperwork due to COVID-19 rules and concerns over testing to return to the United States, adding that transporting his team to the airport was the most challenging part of the trip.
“This year we had different challenges because of COVID, there was a lot more paperwork to fill out,” Bimbi said. “We had to get tested to come back, which is a little nerve-racking when you might have to leave people behind for seven or 10 days. Those logistical things added some problems, but the most stressful part of the tour is getting your team to the airport in Chicago.”
After arriving in Italy, Kilburg said she enjoyed being able to discover different cities, adding that she was impressed by the architecture of their destinations. She said Bimbi allowed her teammates to split up after taking tours together to explore on their own — allowing her to really experience Italian culture.
The team also dedicated time to soccer on the trip, playing a match against Spezia Calcio Femminile, an Italian Serie C professional team comparable to NCAA Division I teams. Loyola scheduled the match through Dream Team Sports Tours — an Italian agency that plans trips and matches for teams touring Europe — Bimbi said in an email to The Phoenix.
Junior midfielder Megan Nemec, a marketing major, said the match exposed the team to styles of play Loyola doesn’t see in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) to prepare for new competition in the Atlantic 10 (A-10), adding that it was exciting to play a match in Europe.
“I liked when we were able to play a game against Spezia,” Nemec said. “It was cool to play against them and see the different styles of play. We were [also] playing in Italy which was crazy and so cool.”
Bimbi said playing Spezia can help his players believe they can play soccer professionally in Europe after graduation since they were exposed to a higher level of play in Italy.
“Playing the women’s team over there, some of our girls might think they can play in Europe after graduation,” Bimbi said. “They just saw the level and think they could do that.”
On the team’s last day in Italy, Loyola stepped off the pitch to watch A.C. Milan, a Serie A club playing at the highest level of Italian soccer. Senior midfielder Abby Swanson, a nursing major, said the match was important for the team’s trip and that she enjoyed the atmosphere with her teammates.
Bimbi said his players experienced Italy’s passion for soccer and that Milan’s fans were rowdy and dedicated to their club. He said A.C. Milan was fighting for first place in its league and that the stadium’s energy made his players admire European soccer.
“I think they saw the passion people have for soccer,” Bimbi said. “It is these people screaming at the top of their lungs, it’s life or death every game. They are fighting for first place in the league and I think the energy in the stadium made them appreciate what European soccer is about.”
Bimbi said the trip makes the spring semester more exciting since his players have something to look forward to together. He said stepping away from busy schedules during the off-season allows his players to form stronger relationships with each other, adding that he will continue to bring players to Italy.
“[The trip] is go, go, go for seven days … they get to know other teammates in a different way spending that much time together,” Bimbi said. “[At Loyola] it’s classes, you’re running around and practicing. In Italy, you’re around the group for seven days and build different relationships with players. To bring a group over and enjoy it like they did, it’s definitely something we will keep doing.”