Story courtesy of Rose-Hulman
TERRE HAUTE, IN – When the members of the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology soccer programs prepared to travel to South America for the USA D-3 Brazil Soccer Select Tour, they knew there, the sport of fútbol would be a bigger deal than perhaps in say, the United States.
Sean Helliwell, head coach of the men's side of NCAA Division III all-stars from across the U.S., realized quickly he underestimated soccer's importance in perhaps the world's largest ambassador.
"Being in a country where soccer is No. 1, where you see kids playing on the beaches, in streets, there are soccer fields everywhere you look – that was just fantastic," the seventh-year RHIT coach said.
And while both teams did extremely well on the field – each went 3-1 during the week-long trip in early June – it was the friendships gained after the matches, when the teams traded jerseys and took photos – that really resonated with the visitors from America.
"It was just an experience of a lifetime," Helliwell added. "When you get to meet someone from a completely different country with a completely different background, where the one common bond was soccer – soccer drew these kids together. The kids really grew an appreciation and respect for one another."
Helliwell joined his wife – Rose-Hulman women's soccer head coach and the D-3 women's assistant Amy Helliwell – on the trip, along with several current RHIT players. They included, on the men's side: Drew Miller (Cincinnati, Ohio/Bishop Fenwick), Mike Smyser (Grand Rapids, Mich./Forest Hills Northern), Nick Kowalkowski (New Lenox, Ill./Lincoln Way), and Brad Rostron (Westlake, Texas/Southlake Carroll).
Hanover was represented on the women's side by: Rachel Alvis (Cincinnati, Ohio), Anna Cornacchione (Cincinnati, Ohio), Elaine Simpson (Lexington, Ky.), and recent Hanover graduate Chloe Hutchinson (Louisville, Ky.).
Miller, RHIT's starting goalkeeper who tended the net for the men's USA team, also commented on the drastic change in the sport's visibility.
"I absolutely loved it," Miller said. "You would drive along the road and it would seem like every mile or two you would pass a soccer field with people playing – kids or adults. All the sporting stories, it was all soccer – it was a nice culture shock for me, at least."
The teams traveled to several different cities within Brazil, taking on teams from Botafogo (the Brazil Naval base), Campinos, Valinhos, and Jundiai.
Both Helliwells said the most rewarding experience was that of their time in Campinos, when the USA women's squad was able to participate in "mini-games" with girls ages 13-23 in a special inclusion-type outreach program. After the time on the field, the women's team was able to spend time learning Brazilian dances and cheers.
"Some of the players literally had nothing – it was great to see the smiles on their faces when they met us," Amy Helliwell said of the experience. "It was a very humbling experience – as well as rewarding, inspiring and eye-opening."
Combs, who served as the women's side keeper throughout the trip, said those kinds of experiences were some of the best, as well as the relationships the U.S. teams – which included 32 players from across the country made in a very short period of time.
"The biggest thing that followed me through it and even coming back was the fact that I have so many more friends," she said. "We took 15 girls from literally almost everywhere in the country and almost instantly, we were a well-bonded team.
"I think that's something really cool that I value."
Along with plenty of soccer, the teams also got the chance for some sightseeing, making it to Rio de Janeiro to see the famous Christ the Redeemer Statue and Sugar Loaf Mountain.
And as for the competition? Both goalkeepers admitted there was one major difference.
"They could shoot," Miller said with a laugh. "If you gave them a shot from 40 yards out, it was dangerous."
Added Combs: "The first game, probably like 10 minutes into it, a girl takes a touch and just in half a second rockets this ball over my head – I was like, where did that come from?
"That's not something I've seen in a while … they had the power and precision with their shots and that was really impressive about their game."
To see a photo gallery from the trip, check out the USA Sports Tours & Events Facebook photo gallery HERE: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.718472751524471.1073741843.135914949780257&type=1