When the school year resumes next week, a small group of Quince Orchard and Northwest girls will have a killer topic for the traditional essay on “what I did during my summer vacation.” They spent 10 days in Bosnia and Herzegovina training at a world-class soccer facility, playing matches against local teams, and sightseeing in the mountainous Balkan country and its neighbor on the Adriatic Coast, Croatia.
The FC Bordeaux Girls 99 soccer team, including three girls from QO and seven from Northwest, got to experience soccer training in the European style at Sport Centar Medjugorje while touring Dubrovnik, Split and Makarska, Croatia and Mostar, Herzegovina, and experiencing the local culture and farm-fresh cuisine.
The trip was the brainchild of Nenad Vilotijevic, head coach of FC Bordeaux and its affiliated Premier Soccer Clinic and a native of nearby Serbia, who saw it not only as a chance to expand the girls’ soccer skills, but their cultural consciousness as well.
He wanted to show the girls and their family members who accompanied them how beautiful the former Yugoslavia region is and its recovery from the Balkan Wars of the 1990s. He also wanted to introduce the U.S. girls to European soccer and show Europeans how much more advanced girls soccer programs are in the U.S. than they are overseas.
The U.S. and Eastern Europe are “totally different cultures,” Vilotijevic said, and his team “can learn a lot, and European kids can learn a lot about U.S. … We’re trying to connect to that part of the world. To share experiences, to see how nice it is in Europe (and) for people in Europe to see how nice it is here.”
The girls got the point.
“Just the whole experience of being outside the country and … their different cultures and everything was amazing,” said Kaitlyn Price, a QO junior whose sister Natalie, a freshman, is also on the team. “But my favorite part was definitely being able to play international teams and … seeing how they play over there.”
“Honestly, when I went I was expecting it to be soccer and not much different from here,” said Jordan Markiewicz, a senior at Northwest. “But when we got there I realized that about half the trip was soccer, and then we were able to actually immerse ourselves in the culture and travel to different parts of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Croatia as well, which was beautiful!”
The soccer portion of the trip consisted of training sessions conducted by Vilotijevic and assistant coach James Myers Antiaye, which included technical skills and drills on the pitch complimented by strength and agility training in the fitness center. The girls also competed in matches against SFK 2000 Sarajevo and ZNK Capljina. They won both, scoring six goals in each, which gave them a sense of satisfaction and demonstrated the relative status of girls’ soccer in the U.S. over Europe at this stage.
“Being able to … play these teams and kind of show people over there what we’re made of and what we worked so hard to accomplish,” was the best part of the trip for Heather Markiewicz, Jordan’s twin sister.
It “definitely felt good to know that we could compete with them,” added Jordan. “Our style of play, which is more possession, to be able to show it to them over there, because that’s the European style, felt good.”
The coach, players, and parents raved about the Medjugorje facility, which is also the training home of the Croatian national team. The complex featured a first-class soccer pitch, professional-grade equipment, two swimming pools, gym and weight room, accommodations, dining, and transportation.
“They do everything for us,” said Vilotijevic. “Very well organized . … Everything was about us. Whatever we need, they do that for us.”
They especially enjoyed the hearty but simple meals prepared each day from fresh, local ingredients, and the girls became friendly with Sanka, their hostess, even though she spoke very little English and they spoke even less of the local language.
“She came to Sarajevo for our first game and she showed up with her little American flag, even though that’s where she was from,” laughed Heather Markiewicz.
The hospitality and friendliness of the Balkan people made a huge impression on the girls and their family members.
“Just how happy the people were,” said Jordan Markiewicz of her impression of the region. Even though the people don’t have much in the way of material wealth, “they just seem very happy and very family-oriented.”
“It was a phenomenal experience,” said Heidi Price, mother of Kaitlyn and Natalie. She and other parents got to enjoy a trip to a local winery while the girls practiced one day, and it, like all of the local produce, was a big hit.
The girls achieved celebrity status, getting substantial local media coverage as one of the first U.S. youth teams to travel and play in the region. Local media were especially pleased to learn that Vilotijevic was a native Serbian who had brought his team to see his part of the world.
“To see (Vilotijevic’s) part of the world through his eyes, it was great,” said Heidi Price. “He wanted to show these girls who he’s been training for so long what he grew up with.”
Vilotijevic wants to continue promoting soccer exchanges between the U.S. and Europe. His team is affiliated with the professional soccer club in Bordeaux, France, and he hopes by bringing players to Europe some might get interested in playing international soccer. He wants to add boys teams to his programs and bring European youth teams to the U.S.
But the trip was clearly about much more than soccer to the coach.
“I want to show the people how nice it is … 20 years (after the) wars … everything is nice here, people can go,” he said.
“When you think of Yugoslavia obviously you think about the war and everything that went on there in the past,” Kaitlyn Price said. “But going and seeing the beautiful parts of it really made me realize there’s so much outside of the U.S. … It was just so much different than I expected.”