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'Manya's Musings' Return from U-21 WNT's Trip in Holland

She's back. Everyone's favorite U-21 international Manya Makoski is in Europe with the U.S. U-21s and ready for a few more editions of Manya's Musings, her journals on the travels and tribulations of the U.S. Youth National Teams. This time Manya checks in from Holland where the U-21s are playing several matches and shares her thoughts on the players participating in Wimbeldon (umm...we mean an intra-team ping-pong tournament), experiencing some World World II history and how forward Tiffany Weimer is always entertaining on (and off) the field.

Welcome back to Manya’s Musings, the first edition of 2006! It’s been a while since I’ve written. Something like nine months, two days, eighteen hours, eleven minutes, and what, like thirty-three seconds? But who’s counting? I guess I missed my little journal. Still, I think I’ve got what it takes to give the readers what they want. And that’s a behind-the-scenes look at how the U.S. U-21 Women’s National Team entertains itself in between games, with team mishaps, quirks, and the inevitable random comments.

Every time I get invited to an international trip with the U-21s, I get excited, humbled, nervous, and grateful. Not only do I get to write my Musings, but I get to play with some of the best players in the country and against some of the best players in the world. It’s always a rewarding experience.

The team flew out of Newark for Amsterdam, Holland, on Wednesday, April 26th. Unfortunately, I was not there. No, I didn’t miss my flight to Newark, and no, I did not get injured at the last moment. I was doing some “grown-up stuff” that I had planned for a long time. My college, Arizona State University and the Barrett Honors College, which I will be graduating from in eleven days, thirteen hours, fifty-nine minutes, and two seconds (not that I am counting, or anything) put on a presentation for those who completed their senior thesis. I was one of 40 chosen to participate in this presentation out of about 500 who had written an honors thesis. After two semesters of grueling research and analysis from which I produced an in-depth 58-page masterpiece, I better be recognized for at least something! My title: A Feminist Portrayal of the Media Coverage of the Winning

1999 Women’s United States World Cup Soccer Team. (Shout out!). I’d say it’s pretty straightforward. Other students’ titles included words I didn’t even know existed in the English language. But that’s beside the point. The point is I had to fly to Amsterdam all by myself.

So I’m sure we have all laughed at the person who walks on the airplane, ticket in hand, looking back and forth at their ticket and the seat numbers on the overhead bins, and then tells the person in what they thought was their seat, that they are in their seat, but they are really in the seat in back of yours. Yes, I was one of those lack-of-common-sense and I-want-to-stick-my-foot-in-my-mouth travelers. I will no longer laugh at that person who tells me that I am in their seat when I’m really not. My seat was 19L. I was so annoyed when I came to what I thought was my seat and saw this big Irishman (complete with pale skin and bright blond hair). He was sitting next to his big Irishman wife (compete with pale skin and red hair). I said, “Excuse me but I think I am in 19L.” He replied laughing, “Oh, isn’t that nice of you to tell me what seat you’re in.” He then turned to his wife and said in his annoying little Irish accent, “Honey, isn’t that nice she told me what seat she’s in.” Mortified, I practically jumped over the guy in 19K to get to my window seat in front of the Irishman. I made sure to recline my seat all the way back during the flight. Karma Irishman, Karma.

Eventually, I made it to Amsterdam. It looked the same from when I last visited with the U-19s in the summer of 2001, which was my first trip with a youth national team. After I got to the hotel, I changed into training gear and met up with the team at the field down the street. My body didn’t seem to feel tired and I quickly jumped into the training session. However, I soon felt the affects of international travel and too many hours jammed into 19L.

So far, it’s been a pretty standard international trip. The same rhythmic schedule of breakfast, training, lunch, training and dinner; the repetition of the same food at our meals; the frustrating conversation with the cleaning ladies when we say “we will be leaving in 5 minutes,” and it gets translated into “okay you can clean our room now,” and the way the days seem so never-ending.

However, as always, we seem to have found ways to get past the monotony…and on this trip that means a doubles ping-pong tournament. My partner was Noelle Keselica from the University of Virginia. I couldn’t apologize to her enough for being so horrible at ping-pong. It’s not like I have a lot of time on my hands in my ever-busy life of going to school and playing soccer nonstop, unlike some people…(cough, those in the wonderland of high school, cough, Tobin Heath, cough). Noelle and I played against fellow Connecticutian (I’m not sure if that’s what we are called or even if that’s a real word), Tiffany Weimer and her partner, Tobin. Since Tiff had a hard time seeing over the ping-pong table, Tobin pretty much carried her team to victory. I, on the other hand, can blame my lack of ping-pong skill on my delirious state of tiredness from international travel. (Side-note: I can make fun of Tiff because she makes fun of me - and everyone else. Plus, I’ve known her since we played against each other when we were kids).

But I must say that Tiff’s ping-pong skills have improved tremendously. While she did have to stand on a couch cushion to play, she and Tobin made it to the quarterfinals where they lost to Coaches Jill Ellis and Bill Irwin. However, I must let you all know that it was Team JillBill’s first game of the tournament, where on the other hand, Tiff and Tobin had to beat two other teams. I’m not saying it was unfair or anything, but seriously, who gets to enter a tournament in the third round?

Kendall Fletcher and KJ Spisak (Team K Squared) beat Ashlee Pistorius and Katie Griffin in the semis to advance to the Championship match against Team JillBill. Kendall was really intense when she was playing. Honestly, I was kind of scared. With her swaying back and forth, her tight grip on the paddle and the intense and focused look in her eye, I swear she could have beaten anyone on the Chinese National Ping-Pong Team at that moment. KJ was more relaxed, compared to Kendall. That balance was what was needed to beat the tricky and skillful duo of Team JillBill.

As the lead kept fluctuating between Team JillBill and Team K Squared, nerves were rattled, palms became sweaty and ping-pong balls were miss-hit, over-hit and under-hit. The pressure was building. I can’t remember who said it, but I’m pretty sure I heard the classic line, “You could cut the tension in here with a knife.” The winning point was an easy one for Team K Squared as KJ served to Team JillBill, only for them to over-hit the return. The ball went flying over the table and as soon as the ball hit the ground, Team K Squared and the crowd erupted in celebration. The team shook hands and Kendall gave a short post-game speech. Luckily, I was there to capture her emotion and dedication to the great sport of ping-pong.

Said Kendall: “I have to thank my training partner and roommate, Liz Bogus, for all the hard work and hours of training she put in to prepare me for this day. I never thought this day would be possible. I’d like to thank my teammates for supporting me against Team JillBill in their devastating loss.”

Team JillBill declined comment for Manya’s Musings, but later insisted on mandatory drug testing of Team K Squared.

To Team JillBill, the only “drug” you will find in Team K Squared is love. Love of the game. Ping-Pong for life.

As if a doubles Ping-Pong tournament wasn’t enough to fill our down time, we took a trip into Amsterdam on Sunday. On the bus ride there, we talked about our first mission of the day: to see the Anne Frank house. Since I actually knew about Anne Frank, I was excited for the visit. For those readers who have no idea who Anne Frank is, here is a bit of history, straight from the English Guide from the Anne Frank House: A Museum with a Story.

“Anne Frank was just one of the many victims of the Jewish persecution during World War II. Her family fled to the Netherlands in 1933, when Hitler came to power in Germany. In May 1940, German Nazis occupied the Netherlands and from then on the repression of Jews increased here as well. By going into hiding, the Frank family hoped to escape this…Anne Frank kept a diary while she was in hiding. She wrote about everyday life in the annex, the isolation, and the constant fear of being discovered. Anne’s diary was first published in the Netherlands in 1947. It had been translated into more than 60 languages since then.”

The half-hour wait in line to get into the museum was almost unbearable. We were starving and had to go to the bathroom. So, Liz Bogus, a.k.a. Bogi (a fellow Sun Devil), Tiff, Katie, my roommate Bristyn Davis, Danesha Adams and I walked to a nearby coffee shop to grab a quick snack and go to the bathroom. Hot chocolate was enough to warm up Bogi and me. Or perhaps it was just a way so that we could all go to the bathroom. “You no buy, you no go to toilet,” the coffee shop owner told us.

We finally got to the front of the line, where we tried to pass for being the U.S. U-17 Women’s National Team. Children’s tickets (ages 12-17) were only three Euros, whereas an adult ticket (18 years and older) was seven Euros. I know it’s sad, but those extra four Euros could go towards more Ping-Pong balls.

Going through the house, reading the displays, looking at pictures, watching videos and actually seeing where Anne Frank and her family hid was powerful, emotional and shocking. To see a part of history and the reality that these people lived was an experience I will never forget. Anne Frank’s Diary is not just another book I had to read in high school. It is a memoir of a child and her family’s struggle through a horrible period in world history.

After leaving the Anne Frank house, we searched for lunch. After seeing a Dutchman walk by with a nice, big slice of New York-style pizza, a bunch of us, including another fellow Connecticutian, Equipment Manager James Peters, spent twenty minutes looking for the pizza shop that the Dutchman told us was 20 meters down the street. Unsuccessful in our search, we finally resorted to a very integral part of the Dutch culture, McDonalds. Okay, so we did not immerse ourselves in Dutch culture during lunch. Honestly, I try to avoid McDonalds, let alone hamburgers, while back home in the U.S., and yet I always seem to eat McDonald’s in another country. If my boyfriend back at school only knew what I ate. I always give him a hard time for eating hamburgers and McDonalds. Oh great, he will probably read this. Micah, please do not hold this against me because I swear it was a life-or-death situation. I was hungry. And you know how crazy soccer players can get when they are hungry.

We played our first game of the trip against local club team, Seastum. We played at the fields that we played on during my first trip with the U-19s, so I was familiar with the surroundings. Kelly Hammond and I were reminiscing about our experience from way back then. We were so young, innocent, and naïve when we started our journeys with the youth national teams. Now, we are mature adults…just don’t ask any of our teammates to verify that.

We weren’t proud of our effort in the game, but it was definitely a learning experience, and we came out victorious by a 2-1 score. Tiff scored a goal in the first half and we got a second half goal by my roommate, Bristyn. What was exciting for me was that I made my debut as left back. After playing forward and midfield my whole life (that’s 20-plus years folks), I finally found my calling as an outsider defender. Granted, I was literally half the size of the forward I was marking (I swear her elbows could have poked my eyes out), but I did win one header over her. I’m not going to lie, I’ve got “ups” and I’m not afraid to use them. I will sky over Tiff Weimer if she dares challenge me.

Speaking of Tiff Weimer…probably the funniest moment of the game came late in the second half. Tiff received a pass from one of our midfielders and in usual Tiff-style, flicked it over her opponent’s foot to her right side. The ball bounced and Tiff wound up, swung and unfortunately missed. The force of Tiff’s swing made her body do a full spin in the air and she landed on her back, Charley Brown-style. She laid on the ground for a good while, but luckily she was laughing. We tried to stifle our chuckles on the sideline, but we couldn’t hold it in when we saw Jill cracking up next to us on the bench. Now, we have a new name for when someone whiffs, Jill calls it, “A swing and a Tiff.” Fortunately, Tiff’s goal made up for her blunder and her usual style of tricky play made her whiff ten times funnier.

After reviewing game tape and having a productive training session, we have the chance to re-claim our pride of playing for our country. We are ready to play against Holland’s Women’s National Team next. It should be a good test for us, as they recently played a good game against France, which is one of the top women’s teams in the world. It will be a good chance to measure where we are as a team, and where we need to be. Wish us luck! And stay tuned for another edition of Manya’s Musings later on in the week.

Bye from Holland,

U-21 WNT is the official website of U.S. Soccer, the governing body of soccer in the United States.