NMU soccer: Wildcats leave for preseason tour through Germany, Belgium, Netherlands on Monday

MARQUETTE – Northern Michigan University junior defender Haley Boroughf of Marquette has a reputation for being a strong competitor on the pitch dating back to her record-setting days with the Redettes.

However, when the 2011 MSHS graduate departs on a two-week trip to Europe next week with her Wildcat teammates, that guard will be let down.

Win or lose, Boroughf and the ‘Cats plan to make the most of what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“I’m just excited, first of all, to play against better competition,” said Boroughf, who is making her first-ever trip overseas. “Even if we lose, it’s going to be a lot of fun. I’m going to learn a lot.

“I probably will never get to go over there again. To play soccer and have fun while going over there, I think it’s going to be a great experience.”

The NMU women’s soccer program embarks Monday on a preseason trip to Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany to play four exhibition games against international competition from a variety of levels in preparation for the 2013 season.

NCAA regulations allow Division II teams to go on foreign tours once every four years. Northern’s last trip to Europe was in 2007 when the program visited the same three countries.

“They’re amazing. They’re exhausting,” NMU head coach Matt Granstrand said. “It’s a lot of touring, visiting beautiful cities, learning about the culture, playing a lot of games. It’s a balancing act between preseason – which is exhausting on its own right – and getting to see some wonderful cities and towns.”

For Granstrand, the focus of his latest expedition is not winning, but getting a jump physically and mentally for 2013 after finishing last season 11th in the GLIAC at 3-10 in the league and 4-13 overall.

“The better the teams are, we’re fine with that,” said Granstrand, who is heading into his 10th season. “We’re going to learn and get better and when we come back, maybe be a step ahead of where we would have been had we not gone.”

The trip is not being funded by the university, but by the team’s own fundraising efforts that began over a year and a half ago.

NMU junior defender Heather Amr of downstate Dearborn – whose only international travel experience at this point is to Canada – said the fundraising effort alone was a strong team-building exercise.

“Everyone pulled through and pulled their weight,” Amr said. “I’m so excited. I can’t even put into words how excited I am. Just to go with this group of girls is going to be a lot of fun in general. Even if we went anywhere in the U.S., it would have been fun just because of the group of girls we have.”

NMU athletic director Forrest Karr said while the university can’t afford to send teams to Europe, he encourages the trips if the funds can be raised because it enhances the student-athlete experience.

As AD at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Karr said he always received positive feedback from hockey coaches who began their seasons in Fairbanks at the Alaska Gold Rush tournament.

“(Coaches) were always worried about it going into the year that if they traveled that far, it would take a toll on them and screw up their preparation for the year and their ability to have success,” Karr said. “What they actually found was when the kids went on a long trip like that – especially early in the season – they really bond and have an opportunity to get to know each other that much better. Hopefully that will translate to on the field as well.”

Granstrand said the combination of training, competing, learning and having fun overseas can really bring the team together in a way that a normal preseason on campus can’t.

That kind of preseason is especially important this year after a tumultuous offseason in which redshirt freshman Arianna Alioto drowned during a team practice in the PEIF pool.

Granstrand said this program is still recovering from the tragedy.

“We’re a team that is still struggling emotionally – the staff is, the team is,” Granstrand said. “We’re trying to recover and I think it will be good to get away as a team to try to work through some issues.

“There’s no other distractions. We’re together, alone in another country. It’s a great bonding experience.”

The group of eight freshman and redshirt freshman – including two Swedes that will meet the team in Europe – seven sophomores, eight juniors and two seniors will stay in the Dutch city of Zutphen.

Destinations include Munster in Germany, Brussels in Belgium and the Dutch capital of Amsterdam. The team will also embark on two bike tours, including a seven-mile trip into a Dutch village.

“I think just the little things, like exploring the town and touring will be a lot of fun,” Boroughf said.

Both Boroughf and Amr cited the bike tour as what they were most looking forward to off the field. On the field, Amr said she was excited for the chance to train with Amsterdam’s Ajax women’s professional soccer club.

“We found out we get to play the Ajax women’s team, so that’s going to be a tough one,” Amr said. “It’s going to really challenge us as players. I’m excited for it.”