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A life-enriching memory capable of outshining nearly every future accomplishment is something coach Mike Wingo believes his soccer players might get out of a two-week trip to Europe this summer.

In three previous trips with boys teams, Wingo has seen the experience make a colossal impact on their lives regardless of the considerable success they've gone on to achieve.

"When I run into them now, the first thing they bring up is their trip," he said. "It's their foremost experience in the game."

Next in line for that experience is the Little Illini Soccer Club's under-16 girls team, a 16-player unit with 15 girls from Bloomington-Normal.

The team leaves July 14 for Gothenburg, Sweden, site of the Gothia Cup, which draws 1,600 teams from 75 countries. The weeklong co-ed tournament has age divisions between U-11 through U-19.

Players will sleep on cots and eat meals at a school also housing teams from other countries.

"We got to be good friends with a team from Peru and a team from Africa," said Wingo in recalling an earlier trip. "You hang out between games and at lunch. You make all kinds of friends."

During the pool play portion of the tournament, teams play just once per day, leaving plenty of time for sightseeing in a city of 424,000 eager to welcome soccer players.

"It stays light until midnight," said Wingo. "They can get around to see a lot - discotheques, amusement parks, water parks …"

Wingo expects his team will be in a division with at least 60 squads.

"I think we can do very well," he said. "This team is the cream of the crop from several high schools around the area."

The squad went 18-7-4 last year and won the National Soccer Rankings Gold Cup in Naperville.

"That was really a turning point for them," said Wingo, noting several of his players are being recruited by colleges.

"We've played together for so long, I think we'll do well," said Normal West sophomore Jen Guy, whose team's nucleus has been together since fourth grade.

The Little Illini will spend the next week competing in the 1,000-team, 45-nation Dana Cup at Hjorring, Denmark.

Soccer is so popular in Europe, Wingo said his team once had 600 spectators show up to observe practice.

"When you go half a world away and you are appreciated by people who love the sport that much," he said, "there is no substitute for it."

It's something the Little Illini have dreamed about for years.

"When we were little, we wanted to be Brandi Chastain and Mia Hamm and go to other countries to play soccer," said Central Catholic sophomore Lexi Sokol.


Little Illini Soccer Club members

Here are players set for a two-week trip to Scandinavia in July:

Bloomington: Liz Ficek, Beth Walther, Emily White.

Central Catholic: Kaylie Henson, Lexi Sokol, Brittany Brady.

Normal Community: Shanna Hutchison.

Normal West: Jen Guy, Jordan Becker.

University High: Anna Lenart, Mackenzie Olson, Sadie Somers, Erin Sage, Emily Hahn.

Champaign Central: Amanda Greco.

Chiddix Junior High: Kalee Hutchison.


Giving 16 girls an experience of a lifetime isn't cheap. The team has conducted fund-raisers for a year-and-a-half. Those wishing to chip in can send checks made out to LISC U16G to Tracy Sokol, 18587 Navajo Lane, Hudson, IL 61748

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