PUHI — A couple of local youth soccer players recently returned home from a trip to Europe.
“I’m finally acclimated to the time change,” Kaya Ramirez, 16, said on Thursday. “It’s 12 hours (difference).”
Ramirez and Ben Griep, 15, are members of youth futsal club Kalaheo FC, took part in international competition.
The Kauai youth got the opportunity to travel from working with Adriano De Lima of Culture FC, who has done a number of futsal clinics with Kalaheo FC.
“I think the knowledge that, the confirmation that they’re passionate about the game and there are people in the world as passionate as them, they can accomplish a lot with what they love,” De Lima said of what he hopes the two Kauai youth took away from the trip.
“They love this game, and they showed that. I think they gained a lot of knowledge about the game, that you not only learn on the field, but you learned through friendships. You can get a lot of friendships through the game. You can learn about life through the game,” he continued.
Ramirez, a midfielder and forward, joined Spanish youth club Promesas Del Norte and played with the U18 girls in the Donosti Cup in San Sebastián, Spain. Promesas Del Norte won the U18 girls tournament and finished with a record of three wins and a draw.
“It was definitely like, ‘Wow. I can’t believe we actually did that,’” Ramirez said. “Not knowing anyone there, never playing with them before, it was like, ‘Wow.’”
Ramirez was in Spain for two weeks. One thing she had a hard time with was the language barrier.
She had to rely on teammates who spoke both Spanish and English to translate for her.
“Everyone there, no one spoke English,” she said. “We had to figure out what they were saying. The coach would take us three Americans, and she would try to communicate with us. She would talk slowly so we could figure it out. She would tell what what to do in practice and tell us where to play, and basically make sure that we got it.”
Ramirez played against some top teams from Spain.
“In the finals, we played the (Spanish top-tier club Atlético Madrid) select spring team and beat them. That was like, ‘Whoa,’” she said. “And we played the best team in Barcelona. … That was really cool.”
Greip played with De Lima’s Culture FC U17 boys team in the San Marino Cup in Rimini, Italy. The Culture FC team finished fifth out of 12 teams and finished with two wins, a loss and two draws.
“It was really crazy,” he said about playing overseas. “But my team, they made everything easy for me. They made getting into the team really easy. Learning their style, that was pretty difficult.
“On Kauai, I like pass it back and keep possession. But where I played, studying where I played, they wanted that position — the center mid — to create and dribble around.”
Griep, who plays midfielder, spent four days in Spain and one week in Italy. During his time in Italy, unpredictable weather confounded him.
“The temperatures change a lot. In Italy, in my last game, it was hailing and (there was) lightning,” Griep said. “And the day before, it was 100 degrees. The weather was super weird.”
Both said being in countries where everyone is immersed in soccer — as opposed to the United States where the sport isn’t as popular — was quite the experience.
“Everywhere we went, they had big soccer stadiums,” Ramirez said. “They had soccer fields everywhere. We went to the beach, and they had beach soccer going on. It’s so cool to see everything.”
Griep recalled a time when a beach soccer experience showed how inclusive soccer is in Europe.
“My coach was like, ‘You guys should try and join.’ And we were really nervous. We were like, ‘Should we do that?’ And then we see a bunch of kids and they were like, ‘Can we play with you guys?’” he said. “That’s how it is in Europe. You just kind of jump in.”
Those kind of experiences, De Lima said Thursday, were exactly why he wanted to take the students to Europe.
“Here, when you’re part of a sport that you know is not the main sport in your country, you can kind of feel restrained and limited to the things you can accomplish,” De Lima said. “When they go to places like that, they can really be themselves, and just expand and really show who they are. It’s OK because everybody does it.
“They didn’t shy away from any experience they went through. It was really nice to see their growth and development, and the happiness and passion coming from them.”
Both students are working on staying in shape and are looking forward to the upcoming Kauai Interscholastic Federation soccer season in December. Ramirez is about to be a senior at Kauai High School, and Griep will be a junior at Island School.