Massachusetts Daily Collegian

International players populate UMass women’s soccer roster

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(Judith Gibson-Okunieff / Daily Collegian)

The most common sports that have international student-athletes are soccer, field hockey and ice hockey. The Massachusetts women’s soccer team boasts four internationals, with three players from all around Europe and a fourth from Canada.

Having international players on his roster is nothing new to Minutewomen head coach Ed Matz, however.

“In 20 years of coaching, especially when I was at Northeastern, I’ve had a good amount of international people,” Matz said. “Here it’s nice to have a good core at UMass…They’re typically a little older and a little more mature in their culture and they’re a little more focused. They bring in a different dynamic to our soccer team.”

Freshman Jenny Hipp, hailing from Frankfurt, Germany, is playing her first full season of soccer at the University of Massachusetts after only having visited the United States once, 10 years ago, with her club team. It was then that she knew she wanted to come to play in the U.S.

She said that the facilities were much better than in her native Germany and that made a lasting impression on her, but she came to UMass out of all the schools she was looking at because of the overall feeling she got from stepping onto campus.

“I think it was the general atmosphere,” Hipp said. “I didn’t feel like they showed me something just to impress me, they showed me what I need to know: the training equipment, the locker room, where we go to lift. They showed me the dining hall—it was so impressive. My stomach told me I needed to come to UMass. The people were why I came here.”

Sophomore Sini Laaksonen is playing her first full season of soccer at UMass after transferring from Division II Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She transferred after one semester because, according to Laaksonen, the heat was too much for her to handle, and she chose UMass because of the similarity of the weather to her native Finland.

Laaksonen wasted no time academically, however, as she obtained a 3.9 grade point average during her first semester at UMass, earning herself a place on the Atlantic 10 conference commissioners’ honor roll.

On the soccer field, however, Laaksonen said the language barrier has affected her at times.

“Sometimes I start screaming in Finnish and I’m like ‘Oh god, what am I doing?’” Laaksonen said. “Because obviously no one will understand me, but mostly it’s not a problem. Then again, it’s a good thing when I can speak Finnish to myself sometimes and no one understands me.”

Along with Hipp and Laaksonen, sophomore Hrefna Petursdottir comes to Amherst from Iceland and Julia Stojadinovic from Calendon, Ontario to round out the international crowd for UMass.

When recruiting for European soccer players, Matz said that he doesn’t travel overseas, but he does have connections he takes advantage of. He says that he knows upper-level club coaches and even some of the coaches for a few of the national teams.

He’s not worried about his international players academically, however, due to the welcoming culture of the team and their drive to be successful. Matz likes to jokingly make sure they got to class okay, but he leaves that up to his players to actually make sure they made it to class.

The most fun thing for Matz, however, isn’t the recruiting process, but helping the girls to transition to life in the U.S. both on and off the soccer field.

“Sometimes you have to go up to them or pull them aside and explain something to them,” Matz said. “The big thing, especially with the freshman,  [is] you have to understand that this is a big step for them and my philosophy as the coach. When I talk to them and when I recruit them, I try to treat them like I would want a coach to treat my daughter if she was over in Iceland, or Finland or in Germany.

“So you have to look out for them a little bit more and some things you might not think about like opening a bank account is new to them, how do they do it or where to go buy linens for their bed, showing them that they can buy a computer and things like that.

“It’s so different from the players from the U.S., but I’m just so used to doing it because I’ve been doing it for so many years now: it’s just second nature to me and it’s something I enjoy.”

Zander Manning can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @ ZMSportsReport.

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