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Williams, Elliston Talk Women’s Soccer Trip To Nicaragua

Penn State women’s soccer traveled to Nicaragua over spring break to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of associate head coach Ann Cook’s involvement in the country’s Soccer Without Borders program.

The university’s athletic teams are allowed to take one international trip every four years, making this the perfect opportunity for Cook to share the incredible soccer culture in Nicaragua with her players.

Right away, rising senior midfielder Charlotte Williams noticed Granada’s immense love for the game.

“People would just play pickup in the street,” Williams said. “You can tell that it’s definitely the main sport there. People have such a joy and passion about it regardless of if they play or not.”

Williams (12) and Maddie Elliston are two of head coach Erica Dambach’s returning leaders.

The organization has seen 433 young Nicaraguan women ages 7-20 participate in the program since its founding in 2008. There are about a dozen branches of Soccer Without Borders around the globe, including five in the United States.

Throughout the nine-day trip, Penn State’s players ran clinics and interacted with the local children, holding a 6v6 tournament for the older girls.

Senior defender Maddie Elliston spoke glowingly of the atmosphere for the team’s friendly matchup against the Nicaraguan women’s national team on International Women’s Day, another main highlight of the trip.

“So many girls from Granada came out to Managua,” Elliston said. “It was over an hour drive and they bused out there. There were 75 to 100 girls who came out to watch and they were cheering the whole time. Even the announcer during the game was so enthusiastic.”

Penn State won 2-1 as Williams found Kerry Abello for the game’s first goal, then Frankie Tagliaferri tallied the decisive strike.

The Nittany Lions stayed with host families in a barrio neighborhood of Granada where the houses are practically touching. Williams said her host mom would make fantastic community dinners for everyone consisting of plantains, beans, rice, and other Nicaraguan staples.

“Since it’s really warm there, everything’s very open, even the inside,” Elliston said. “In the kitchen, there was no roof. You could see the moon at night.”

The Omaha, NE, native said the experience was immensely beneficial for the team heading into next season, adding that it showcased the strengths of her teammates both on and off the field and brought everyone closer.

“On the last day, we had this huge festival to celebrate the 10 years and that was probably my favorite,” Elliston said. “There was a Zumba teacher there and we were all dancing. Char and I were playing this juggling game with these two girls helping them beat their record.”

Williams was grateful for the chance to travel to another country and see what life is like for Nicaraguan women who cherish the game of soccer just like her.

“It was an experience that was a bit of a shock at times and a bit uncomfortable at times, but we took it on with an open mindset and a positive attitude, and I found that spoke a lot about the character on our team,” Williams said. “We learned a lot about our team and we were able to meet some incredible people as well.”

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About the Author

Ethan Kasales

Ethan’s a senior journalism major who grew up in Lemont, a few minutes from campus. When he’s not covering Penn State sports, you can usually find him golfing or teaching snowboarding at Tussey Mountain. Feel free to email him at [email protected]

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