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GIRLS SOCCER: Trip to Italy a success for Elco United

If the 2015 Elco girls' soccer team becomes a tight-knit group and enjoys a successful season this fall, there's a good chance they'll look back to mid-June as the start of it all.

The Elco United girls soccer club team, essentially made up of this coming season's Elco High School squad, returned last week from a 12-day playing and sightseeing trip to Italy that was beneficial both athletically and educationally.

Elco United played five games against local club teams, posting a 2-2-1 record, and also strengthened team bonds off the field through visits to Italy's historic tourist attractions, including the Vatican and the Colosseum.

"I think it was a fantastic experience," said Elco coach Derek Fulk, who was joined by 35 adult chaperones for the trip. "For 20 high school kids to have the opportunity to go to Italy for 12 days and play five games and obviously see countless monumental things that you hear about in the news — the Vatican, the Colosseum — it was unbelievable. I couldn't have asked for a better time."

The players that made the trip were: Meredith Balsbaugh,

Kaela Gettle, Emerson Brown, Becca Hickernell, Eve Peiffer, Zoe McGee, Lauren Krall, Jenna Oliviero, Haley Sherk,Tori Irvin, Emily Bidelspach, Kelsie Salem, Jordan Rosengrant, Kaylin Nolt, Alicia Yoh, Kaitlyn Sweigart, Kiersten Sweigart , Alanna Kurtz, Hannah Williams, and Autumn Martin.

The group was a team on and off the field, something that Fulk emphasized prior to and during the trip.

"As far us bonding as a group, it was great," Fulk said. "We had a pretty wide gap — It was seniors all the way down to ninth graders — but I think we had a great experience.

"That was one things that I really stressed, for them to go as a team. So they stayed together, they didn't stay with their parents. They were on their own. I wanted the girls to gain the responsibility of doing things as a team. From that aspect, yes, they definitely bonded and I thought it was a great experience for them."

The only drawback, albeit a significant one, was the fact that Fulk and three other members of the group had their passports and some other personal belongings stolen from their bus during the trip.

Needless to say that created some major headaches for those affected, including Fulk, whose passport issues delayed his return home.

But none of the difficulties discouraged the group from wanting to make a future trip overseas.

The Elco United boys team started the ball rolling with a trip to Germany in 2013. The club is now planning for the boys and girls teams to each head to Europe every four years — with fundraising help, of course.

For the girls, that would mean 2019, when France just so happens to be hosting the Women's World Cup. Spain is also a possible destination for that year's trip.

"Every two years, somebody will be going somewhere," Fulk said. "(Going to France) is something we've already talked about in our little pre-planning of the trip. That's one of the options. But I think either way it'll be a great experience."