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Penn State women’s soccer and Soccer Without Borders.
Talk to anyone involved with Penn State women’s soccer and you will learn that those are Ann Cook’s two passions. In addition to coaching at Penn State, she has been involved with Soccer Without Borders over the past 10 years.
According to its website, Soccer Without Borders is an organization that uses soccer as a vehicle for positive change, providing under-served youth with a toolkit to overcome obstacles to growth, inclusion, and personal success.
With the Nittany Lions able to go on an international trip this spring, Cook was able to bring her two worlds together.
“I give Ann a lot of credit for taking us on this trip because it is something that she has been so passionate about and she is also passionate about Penn State women's soccer,” Charlotte Williams said. “Uniting those two things were great for her but for us as well.”
During Penn State’s nine-day trip with Soccer Without Borders in Nicaragua, the Nittany Lions were not only able to give back to the local communities, enjoy the scenery, but also play a friendly against the Nicaraguan Women’s National Team in Managua on International Women’s Day.
For Williams, a rising senior midfielder, being able to play Nicaragua on International Women’s Day meant a lot to her, her teammates, and the local community.
“That game was special to me because it was on International Women's Day and I just think being in a third world country, playing their national team, and having the game in general get a ton of support from the locals, I just thought that it was really cool,” Williams said.
The match ended in a 2-1 victory for the Nittany Lions with Williams assisting on Kerry Abello’s goal to put Penn State in front, 1-0, during the 35th minute of play. Following the final whistle, the two teams shook hands and then Penn State made its way to celebrate with the young girls from Granada, who traveled an hour away from Managua.
“It was just like the greatest feeling after the game and you would go over and see some of the girls that you bonded with throughout the week and just the joy they have and the way they cheered us on during the entire game,” Williams added.
Williams noted that the trip to Nicaragua brought the Nittany Lions closer together because her and her teammates were able to put their cellphones away and enjoy their time together off the grid.
“It was definitely a cleanse from social media, from texting, from calling, from being on the internet, from being on the phone in general,” Williams said.
I think it was something that was really great for me, something that was really great for our team as well. When you are at lunch, at dinner, or you’re on the field and you don't have your phone it forces you to talk to people face-to-face and that's where you start to build different bonds and make memories.”
Penn State women’s soccer takes pride in its pillars, one of which is ‘united family.’ When you talk to any of the coaches or student-athletes of the Penn State women’s soccer program they rarely use the term ‘team or program,’ but instead ‘family.’
“One of our pillars that we pride ourselves in is united family and throughout my three years on this team I have always viewed the other girls on this team as part of my family,” Williams said.
They are my second family. I felt like this trip in particular bonded us more than any other experience has and it is one of those things where I have been close with everybody on the team, but it is something that I think united us even more and that also reflected on the field when we were playing the Nicaragua Women's National Team. When we were practicing, there was just a buzz in the air, like some unexplainable chemistry that was going on, which was really enjoyable to see and just anytime I can hang around my team I always enjoy it.”
Despite a language barrier between the Nittany Lions and the locals, the two were able to communicate through the game they both love – soccer.
“What I really noticed is the power that sport has in general to change somebody's life and I think that I really realized it brought back the joy that I had in the game, not that it ever went away,” Williams said. It brought me back to being a little kid in the backyard and all you need is a ball and a smile and you are set, you are good to go.”
I don't speak Spanish and a lot of the girls didn't speak English, but through soccer we were able to form these bonds that I wasn't expecting to form. That was something huge that I took away and another thing that I took away was the sense of community in Granada and Managua.”
Though the trip only spanned a nine-day stretch, the Nittany Lions and the young girls in Nicaragua created memories that will last a lifetime.