The Long Beach State men’s basketball and women’s soccer teams recently took trips overseas that not only offered young squads the chance to build chemistry, but provided an opportunity to experience international competition.
From overall popularity to equal pay, the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup just changed United States women’s soccer forever, and LBSU women’s soccer program was there to be part of history.
Head coach Mauricio Ingrassia was able to cram a semester abroad-worth of experience into 12 days as LBSU enjoyed sightseeing in Paris, scrimmaging the Argentinian national team and supporting the world champion Team USA in June.
“From a cultural standpoint, it was unreal,” Ingrassia said. “Not just the everyday living but the history of the city was just incredible. The soccer was obviously an experience that I don’t think any other college team got, and there were a lot of them out there. Then the World Cup experience tied it all together making it the trip of a lifetime.”
Only a few of the current Beach players had traveled internationally, so just moving from Paris to Versailles was itself an adventure. Senior Katie Pingel said her favorite part of the entire trip was the bus rides.
“There’s a lot of girls on the team I didn’t think were outgoing, crazy and funny, but I got to see them on the bus dancing, singing, goofing around and playing games,” said Pingel, one of a handful of seniors tasked with helping LBSU rebuild after losing seven senior starters to graduation. “Even (Ingrassia) was surprised because certain people like me, I’m not really a loud person, but I was having fun and I think it surprised him. It was cool to get the confidence to believe in each other on this trip. We weren’t able to go off on our own, we had to stay together as a team. That made us closer because we had to deal with each other for 12 days.”
LBSU also gave itself a dose of confidence with their performances against the Argentina women’s national team in a pair of scrimmages on the third and fifth day of the trip, ticking off another box on coach Ingrassia’s summer bucket list.
Argentinian-born Ingrassia was able to set up the scrimmage because of his relationship with Argentinian coach Carlos Borrello. LBSU wasn’t intimidated against the Argentinians in two games. The Beach even scored first on a nice goal from sophomore Sierra Castles, though Argentina won both matches, 2-1. Sophomore Elysia Laramie also scored.
“I wouldn’t say I was shocked but it was really fun and good to see,” Pingel said of the scrimmages. “I think we can be better than last year because we play faster as one unit. It was exciting to play as one.”
“We were ecstatic,” Ingrassia said. “Countries (in the World Cup) have to qualify, then they get three guaranteed games. We came here and got two games. What else could we ask for?”
After a few days of being tourists in France, seeing everything from the Eiffel Tower to The Louvre, the cherry on top of the trip was tickets to see a pair of World Cup matches. The first was the June 10 match between Argentina and Japan, so LBSU got to see their recent opponent compete on the world’s largest stage.
The players were also on hand to support Team USA during the record-setting, 13-0 victory over Thailand.
“Maybe our players don’t realize now exactly what it means to have been there, but I think they’ll be talking about it for a long time, and it will have more meaning as time goes on,” Ingrassia said.
“A lot of us have gotten a lot closer, our culture has gotten stronger and we’ve created a bond that’s indescribable,” senior Kaitlin Fregulia said.
Long Beach State women’s soccer, which opened with a 1-0 loss against UCLA and a ?-? against Penn State, plays at home against San Diego on Monday, Sept. 2 and Nebraska on Sept. 6. For more information or tickets, click here.
The NCAA allows every athletics team to raise money and take one summer trip to a foreign country every four years. Coach Dan Monson had no desire to take advantage of that when he arrived at LBSU in 2007. Monson had only taken one preseason international trip as a head coach and it came at the worst possible time.
After two years of leading Gonzaga to the NCAA Tournament, Monson took over the University of Minnesota program in the summer of 1999. The Gophers already had a trip to France planned for the week after Monson accepted the job.
“The players hated it,” Monson said. “They didn’t appreciate it, and none of them even wanted to go to the Eiffel Tower. They spent a couple hundred thousand dollars on the trip. I told myself I’d never waste money on something like that again. When I came to Long Beach, I didn’t think it was cost-effective for what I got out of the one I did.”
LBSU athletics director Andy Fee changed Monson’s mind with a simple conversation earlier this year.
“It was Andy’s idea and he said, ‘It’s up to you, but you have nine new guys this year, and it’s a perfect time to do it.’ That set off a bell in my head,” Monson said. “This is the perfect time to get these nine new players together to change the culture of our program.”
The eight days in Costa Rica included sightseeing, community service and basketball games against the Pan American teams from Costa Rica and Panama. LBSU lost to Panama in the first game, but then beat them in the rematch. The Beach also defeated Costa Rica a few weeks after the host country beat visiting Texas A&M in another exhibition.
“After two weeks with these guys, I think the biggest surprise is that I like my team,” Monson said. “Normally after two weeks, there’s parts I’m really concerned about. We have a lot of guys who can help us win games and their identity is versatile. There are a lot of interchangeable parts and coaching options.”
LBSU also gave back to the local San Jose community by hosting multiple basketball camps for the local youth. One group was from a special needs school, and another came from low-income families.
“On the last night, we went around and asked what their favorite part of the trip was and I think 12 of them said it was the interaction with the kids at the schools,” Monson said. “The players just really embraced it. They bonded during that as much as anything. As a coach, when you take kids on a trip for eight days you’re just waiting for something bad to happen. Just like your own kids, they have to earn your trust. I just came back trusting my guys. They’re a good group.”
LBSU opens the season at UCLA on Nov. 6. Homecoming is Nov. 9, against San Diego at the Walter Pyramid. For more information or tickets, click here.
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