South Africa provides memories, lessons to women’s soccer team

As a number of Gannon University teams took to the south to avoid training in the unpredictable Erie weather over spring break, one squad went farther than the rest.

Lexie Mastro
(Lexie Mastro) Members of the Gannon University women soccer team pose for a group picture with children in South Africa. The Knights gave away cleats and shirts to the pint-sized players.

About 8,000 miles farther.

The Gannon women’s soccer team spent its break by traveling not only out the country, but off of the continent, as it stayed 11 days in Cape Town, South Africa.

Before arriving across the pond, the Knights had to endure an 18-hour non-stop flight between Buffalo, N.Y., and Cape Town. It was an experience that forced the team to complete a variety of activities – even homework – as it looked for ways to pass the time.

“I tried to sleep,” said junior forward Amanda Sharbaugh, who is tied atop Gannon’s all-time goal scoring list. “But it ended up being the worst sleep I ever had.  It went fast though because all of us were together talking.”

Although it would be the team’s first visit to the 2010 World Cup host country, it wasn’t going into South Africa without any knowledge of the former British colony as coach Colin Petersen instructed the players to research either a historical or modern topic on the country.

No amount of studying could’ve prepared the Knights for what they saw when they finally touched down in South Africa.

“It was absolutely gorgeous,” said junior midfielder Katie Urban, who has started in every game of her Gannon career. “Everywhere you looked there were mountains, beaches and blue water. Pictures don’t really do it justice.”

The amazing scenery served as a pleasant surprise for some members on the team.

“It was completely different from what I thought it was,” Sharbaugh said. “I thought it was going to be dry deserts, but it was paradise. We kept saying ‘wow’ because we couldn’t think of any other word.”

The trip was not life-changing only for the Knights, but also for those who they took time out to help as the team put on a soccer clinic for South African orphans.

“It was one of my favorite things,” Urban said. “The kids didn’t really speak any English, but soccer is universal, so we didn’t need to talk much.”

The opportunity to give the children a few hours of joy, in addition to new cleats and shirts, made the Knights grateful for their comforts of home.

“It was one of the coolest things we’ve ever done,” Sharbaugh said.  “It was so rewarding – those kids really do have nothing.”

Gannon took its moves from the practice pitch to the playing field as the Knights were given a chance to scrimmage the local competition.  Gannon dropped a 6-5 decision to Santos Football Club – a professional soccer team in South Africa – but defeated Western Cape Town University 2-1.

Although the heat was barely bearable during the course of the day, according to some of the players the non-existent humidity made for near perfect playing conditions during the evening.

Despite not causing problems during 90 minutes of play, the heat made the Knights’ climb to the summit of Table Mountain a difficult one.

Table Mountain, which reaches its peak 3,558 feet above sea level, took just under two hours for the team to successfully navigate.

“It was super challenging,” said freshman forward Lexie Mastro. “Even though you just drank six bottles of water and were sweating a lot, the view from the top was still beautiful.”

Between climbing mountains and playing soccer, the Knights were still able to enjoy a home-cooked meal despite being half of a world away as they were treated to dinner by Petersen’s brother.

While it was the team’s first excursion to the continent, the trip served as a homecoming for Petersen, who lived in Vereening, South Africa, before coming over to America to play and coach for Gannon.

“His family is really kooky and so nice,” said Mastro. “They always have a smile on their face. You could definitely tell that Colin is the baby of the family.”

According to Urban and Sharbaugh another trip back to the continent – or Petersen’s family for that matter – wouldn’t be met with much hesitance.

“We did so much in so little time,” Sharbaugh said. “It was so interesting.”

ZACK MCDERMOTT

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