Before every game, the NMU soccer team huddles up and, collectively, the players sing out the lyrics to a song. The song differs from week to week.
With the team in Pennsylvania over the weekend, Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again” may have been a fitting song for the pre-game ritual. Instead, Brittney Buchanan, a junior midfielder, led her teammates in belting out the lyrics to Britney Spears’ “Sometimes.”
The team then defeated the Gannon Golden Knights, 1-0. In the game, freshman Kari Buckel found the back of the net to score the lone goal after 48 minutes. Later on Sunday, the Wildcats fell short to Gannon’s neighbor Mercyhurst 1-0, with the goal coming from Adrienne Sluga after 30 minutes.
“We got hustle from freshman and sophomores,” Buchanan said. “Basically anyone who was on the field was hustling. For traveling 12 hours and playing on the road, I thought we played really well.”
The Wildcats traveled roughly 12 hours on the bus to make the 700 mile road trip from Marquette to Erie, Penn. where it played Gannon and Mercyhurst one last time before the two Pennsylvania teams leave the Great Lakes Athletic Conference (GLIAC).
The long road trips may be something the ‘Cats must overcome if they wish to be successful this season.
“You’re mentally fatigued by the time you get where you are going and you have to rise above it to compete and it’s a credit to the team that they do it,” head coach Matt Granstrand said. “It is not easy at all, and there’s nothing glamorous about it.”
This season NMU plays 18 regular season games and 11 of these games are played on the road. Of these 11, none are played in Michigan and the closest game is in Duluth, Minn., four hours away.
“We travel well together. We are like a typical family,” Granstrand said. “There’s pretty much nothing we don’t know about each other.”
Granstrand is not alone on the team in thinking these long road trips bring the athletes closer together. Senior forward, Renee LeBlanc said, everything the team does, from chicken fights in the hotel pool to creating a choreographed dance routine, makes her experience more enjoyable.
“There have been a lot of crazy times [on the road],” LeBlanc said. “I think when we’ve been on the road for so long we have to find time to do other stuff and we’re usually goofy together.”
The team spends a lot of its time on the road watching movies, doing homework, shopping, eating out, sleeping, both on the bus and in the hotel, talking and coming closer together, not just as teammates but as friends.
“It definitely brings us closer together as a team,” Buchanan said. “As much as some of us don’t want to admit it, you get to know a person even better. Of course we have our fights, but in the long run I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I love being on the bus.”
The soccer team may have some silly times off the field but it knows the reason it has traveled the distance is to play soccer.
“It’s almost like we’re doing our job as a business,” Granstrand said. “It’s part of being up here and we rise above it.”
After their most recent road trip, the ‘Cats have a 6-2-2 overall record and are 2-2-2 in the GLIAC.
“I think we are coming along nicely on both fronts. The defense is strong and the offense is coming along much faster than in the past few years,” Granstrand said. “We are rolling along and I think we’re playing some good soccer.”
For homecoming week the soccer team plays just one game over the weekend, at home, against Cardinal Stritch University at noon, on Sunday Oct 7. The ‘Cats have never faced Cardinal Stritch before, but the team feels it is ready for practically anyone.
“I think we’re in good shape,” Granstrand said. “I think we’re ready to play anybody, anywhere right now.”