CRESTVIEW HILLS – Eli Nienaber has spent time in Nicaragua before and got a culture shock.

The Thomas More College incoming senior and Bishop Brossart graduate will enjoy another trip to Central America, this time going with his teammates from the college’s men’s and women’s soccer teams. They leave July 25 and will be gone for two weeks, in advance of their first regular-season games Sept. 1.

Both sets of Saints were set to leave for two weeks of training, tourism and community service in Costa Rica.

“It’s so different,” Nienaber said. “Everything here moves so much faster and we’re used to it. Down there, it’s a lot more laid back. The people are amazing. The people in Nicaragua were so nice to me. Even though I didn’t speak much Spanish, they were so patient with me. Their whole culture is amazing.”

Costa Rica is between Nicaragua and Panama, which is the southernmost country in Central America.

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Thomas More soccer teams practice in the preseason
James Weber/ Enquirer

 

Every three years the NCAA allows college programs to go on an international trip.  This will be TMC’s men’s and women’s teams’ fourth trip since 2008.

“Playing soccer, being on the beach and just getting close with my team, hanging out with them,” Nienaber said of what makes the trip special. 

The school said more than 60 percent of its student athletes have never traveled outside the country. Head coach Eric Busener said several of his players had to apply for passports last year in advance of this trip.

“I feel they gain an extreme appreciation for how other cultures function and hopefully a strong feeling of gratitude for what they have here in the U.S.,” Busener said. 

TMC will travel to three cities in Costa Rica: San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica; LaFortuna, which is essentially the rainforest; and Ocotal, which is on the coast near the beach.  While traveling the Saints will give out more than 150 shirts, donate soccer equipment to underprivileged youth in Costa Rica, as well as hold on-field clinics for young players in the different cities.

Other activities include whitewater rafting, an all-day adventure, a snorkeling trip, attending a professional game, as well as visiting LaFortuna Falls, which is a 180-foot waterfall. 

Those goals will help the Saints become well-rounded and better educated people while they work on their skills and fitness to become better soccer players. They’ve already bonded through numerous fundraisers over the past couple of years.

“We’ll try to combine the soccer and the social aspect,” Busener said. “They put in the hard work to get here, to earn the money to go on this trip. They’ll come back with a bigger appreciation. Mon and Dad didn’t just write the check. This is a thing we talk about in recruiting when they come in. I know the kids are excited and ready to get down there and complete on the field.”

Busener’s team was 10-9-2 last season and will look to get back to the NCAA tourney after reaching the NCAA Tournament the previous seven years.

The women’s soccer team has a new leader this fall in new head coach Kim McGowan. The head coach at D-III Olivet the previous two years, she inherits a team that was 22-1-1 last season, with the loss coming in the third round of the NCAA Division III Tournament. The team has been to the NCAA tourney seven straight years and has gone to the Sweet 16 the past four years, including one Elite Eight appearance. The past five seasons, TMC has lost a total of three regular season games.

“We’ve had eight practices so far with the new coach,” said Abby Stadtmiller, a senior and Brossart graduate. “It’s going well. Definitely nothing has changed with her coming in. We still have the same goals and we’re looking to do everything we can and keep it up.”