Loyola’s women’s football faces new competition on the spring break trip to Italy

The Loyola women’s soccer team traveled across Italy during spring break, discovering a new culture and eating gelato while learning more about soccer and each other.

Head coach Barry Bimbi said the journey went well because his players are trustworthy and have good chemistry. He said the trip took his players to a new corner of the world and helped them break away from their busy college schedules.

Leading his third team trip to Italy, Bimbi said the opportunity allows him to show his players new life paths and that the trip will serve as a recruitment tool for his programme.

“With this group, a lot of these girls have never been out of the country,” Bimbi said. “[I want] to show them another part of the world and another culture that people live in. It’s a great recruiting tool when you say you’re going on a trip to Italy within your four years here.”

Before leaving Chicago, Bimbi said his players would create presentations about each city they would visit to help 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 do paperwork for return to the United States due to COVID-19 rules and concerns about testing, adding that transporting his team to the airport was the most difficult part of the trip.

“This year we had different challenges due to COVID, there was a lot more paperwork to fill out,” said Bimbi. “We had to get tested to come back, which is a bit nerve-wracking when you have to leave people behind for maybe seven or 10 days. Those logistical things added some issues, but the most stressful part of the tour is getting your team to the Chicago airport.”

Upon arriving in Italy, Kilburg said she enjoyed discovering different cities, adding that she was impressed by the architecture of her destinations. She said Bimbi allowed her teammates to part ways after touring together to explore on her own – so she could really experience Italian culture.

The team also played soccer during the trip, playing a game against Spezia Calcio Femminile, an Italian Serie C professional team comparable to NCAA Division I teams. Loyola planned the game through Dream Team Sports Tours — an Italian agency that plans trips and games for teams touring Europe — Bimbi said in an email to The Phoenix.

Junior midfielder Megan Nemec, a marketing major, said the game exposed the team to playing styles Loyola doesn’t see in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) in an effort to prepare for new competition in the Atlantic 10 (A-10) to prepare, adding that it was exciting to play a match in Europe.

“I liked it when we could play against Spezia,” said Nemec. “It was cool playing against them and seeing the different styles of play. We were [also] playing in Italy was crazy and so cool.”

Bimbi said playing Spezia could help his players believe they can play football professionally after graduating in Europe as they have been exposed to a higher level of the game in Italy.

“Some of our girls who play on the women’s team over there might think they can play in Europe after graduation,” Bimbi said. “They just saw the level and think they could do it.”

On the team’s last day in Italy, Loyola left the pitch to see AC Milan, a Serie A club that plays at the highest level of Italian football. Senior midfielder Abby Swanson, a nursing major, said the game was important to the team’s journey and she enjoyed the atmosphere with her team-mates.

Bimbi said his players experienced Italy’s passion for football and that Milan fans are rowdy and committed to their club. He said that AC Milan was fighting for first place in its league and that the stadium’s energy made its players admire European football.

“I think they saw people’s passion for football,” said Bimbi. “It’s these people screaming at the top of their lungs, it’s a matter of life or death in every game. They’re fighting for first place in the league and I think the energy in the stadium showed them what European football is all about.”

Bimbi said the trip makes the spring semester more exciting as his players have something to look forward to together. He said that being away from busy schedules during the off-season allows his players to build closer relationships with one another, 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 by spending so much time together,” Bimbi said. “[At Loyola] It’s class, you run around and practice. In Italy you are in the group for seven days and build different relationships with players. Bringing a group and enjoying it the way they did is definitely something we will continue to do.”

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