By Matt Burrill & David Pavlak
By plane, New Zealand is more than 9,000 miles away. Uruguay lies nearly 5,300 miles distant, while Germany is 4,000 from New Jersey. These are some of the distances that Rider athletes have traveled in order to continue playing the game that they love. For some, traveling to college is a two-hour car ride, while others travel to another state. For these 14 international athletes in three of Rider’s sports, borders were crossed in order to bring a new era and culture to Rider athletics.
In college athletics, international players are becoming more prevalent. In soccer, for example, international recruitment has been on the rise. As of 2013, nearly 30% of men’s soccer players in the MAAC are from other countries.
“A lot of teams, particularly in our conference, have international players on their rosters,” men’s soccer Head Coach Charlie Inverso said. “These teams have had success as a result.”
This season, Inverso has five international players: junior forward Jude Bischoff (Guam), freshmen midfielders Adrien Huss (France/Spain) and Christian Flath (Germany), and freshmen defenders Rob Nardiello (England) and Warren Holmes (England).
On the women’s side of the pitch, international recruitment is still a work in progress. However, at Rider, bringing in international recruits is beginning to become a staple of the program.
Under Head Coach Drayson Hounsome, a native of the United Kingdom, Rider has built a strong and talented pipeline that has been used to bring in players from Sweden, Norway, Finland, England, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand.
The international recruitment process has helped Hounsome and his staff land five international talents on his roster for the 2013 season. The team features junior midfielder Daisy Allen (England), freshmen forwards Caroline Healy (Ireland) and Hollie Kelsh (England), freshman goalkeeper Bethany-May Howard (England), and freshman midfielder Sorren Henderson (New Zealand).
“Culturally, the international players bring something very different to our team, and at our level, they can really help us be more competitive as a group,” Hounsome said.
With Hounsome’s connections and time spent overseas, scouting these foreign players has become a routine part of his recruiting process. Hounsome was able to scout players, with all different skillsets and experiences, from around the globe. Hounsome watched Healy, who played for Ireland in the U-17 UEFA Championships, while he was back home in the U.K. The same scouting procedure was used in the recruitment of Kelsh, Howard and Allen, each of whom had experience playing a high level of soccer in England.
When it comes to field hockey, having international players on the team has become essential to success.
“If you look at almost every winning program in the country, you will most likely see a few international players on their roster,” field hockey Head Coach Lori Hussong said.
For field hockey, one of Rider’s top performing programs to date, it is seemingly impossible not to acknowledge the importance of their international talent.
In 2008, Hussong recruited Rider’s first international field hockey player and future All-American, Virginia Egusquiza, ’11, from Gexto, Spain. In her four seasons as a Bronc, Egusquiza would become one of Rider’s all-time greatest field hockey players. She currently sits second on the all-time scoring list. The success of the international recruitment conducted by Hussong has opened the door for more foreign talent to find its way to Rider. Currently, there are four international athletes in the program: senior forward Sandra Penas (Spain), freshmen midfielders Carlota Alsina (Spain) and Carolina Vergroesen (Netherlands) and freshman forward Nicole Hareau (Uruguay). The most notable of these players has been Penas, who recently became Rider’s all-time points scorer (162) passing her predecessor, Egusquiza.
“I think Virginia changed the program,” Penas said. “She brought it to the next level. When I got to Rider, it was already a successful winning program. International players bring a different style of play to the field, which combined with the American style, has made Rider a more successful program throughout the past years.”
Each player has brought skills that are unique to them and their home countries, according to Inverso. Huss, who is of French descent but grew up in Spain, describes his game as being “Spanish style,” which consists of being technical, wise, defensive and open to sharing the ball.
“I enjoy passing the ball around to my teammates and building chemistry with them,” Huss said.
Huss’ fellow midfielder, Flath, says his brand of soccer consists more of an offensive style that includes scoring goals, something he has done quite often this season, currently sitting with 17 points (five goals and seven assists).
To go along with Flath and Huss in the midfield are Rider’s two English defenders, Holmes and Nardiello. The two backs play a style of soccer that is practiced and taught in England, which is more aggressive and physical, but also has a strong passing and technique.
“Nardiello and Holmes are defenders, and English defenders are known to have a certain kind of toughness to them,” Inverso said.
For field hockey, the success that was started by Egusquiza, and later followed by Penas, will now look to be carried on by the next generation of international players.
“Having Sandra and Virginia at Rider has raised the level of each player in our program, and made us look overseas for more talent,” Hussong said.
With freshmen Hareau, Alsina and Vergroesen all making strong and notable impacts in their rookie seasons, the Broncs should be set for years to come.
“Playing and learning from Sandra is great,” Vergroesen said. “She is the embodiment of a successful combination of European and American-style field hockey. She helps me as an international player by showing me that it is possible to keep your European style, but strengthen it with some American tricks.”
Hareau seems to already have picked up the scoring ways of Penas, as she leads the team with 13 goals, and only trails Penas by three points.
For some of these athletes, the adjustment to the United States and its college lifestyle has been tougher than it has on others, particularly those athletes who have traveled from smaller, or non-English speaking, countries.
“I must admit that everything was a bit overwhelming in the beginning, too many changes, but I am getting used to the culture and the way things work around here,” field hockey’s Hareau, who comes from Uruguay, said.
Flath, who speaks German, sees the communication boundaries as a difficult challenge to overcome during his first semester of college.
“It’s been hard adjusting to America. No one here can speak German,” he said.
Alsina, who is from Barcelona, Spain, has experienced the same issues that Flath and many other international athletes have: a bit of a culture shock after traveling so far away from home.
“Learning the language and getting used to the way that people eat here have been the biggest adjustments I’ve made,” Alsina said. “My teammates have been very welcoming; all of them have been really nice since I got here.”
For any international athlete, their coach takes on the role of a parent, a role that is exaggerated because of the distance traveled by these athletes.
“We try and make our players comfortable and treat them like they are part of our family,” Hussong said. “When their parents agree to share them with us, we feel responsible for watching over them and making sure that they have a positive, successful experience in all aspects of their college career.”
Nardiello has become close with Inverso, admitting that Inverso has become a parental figure for him.
Another key element that has helped the adjustment for these athletes has been the bonds that they have formed with each other. In the case of Holmes and Nardiello, not only are the two fellow countrymen, but they also share a room together in Poyda Hall.
The bond amongst players and teammates also carries over to the women’s soccer team as all the women, both local and international, formed an instant connection.
“From day one, we all clicked instantly,” Henderson said. “It always amazes me when I remember that I’ve only known these girls for a few months. It feels like I’ve known them forever.”
With the number of international players in the NCAA continually growing, especially at Rider, foreign players may become an everyday occurrence. Of the current 14 international players, 11 are first-year freshmen.
There are high expectations for the international players, something their respective coaches frequently remind them about.
“I tell these guys all the time that they are the ones to turn this program around,” Inverso said.
Hounsome agrees, and feels international students bring a different style to the team.
“Soccer is a working class sport in most countries except the U.S.A., so they bring a slightly different mindset to a program,” Hounsome said. “Big things are expected of them in the future.”
The future looks to be bright for the Broncs and their international talent.
“We have all come here to bring a new era in Rider athletics, and it feels pretty good to be a part of that,” Holmes said.