A three-hour trip seems like a long time to sit on a bus for practice. That's just what Warrior Run was off to do back in August, however.
No, it wasn't coming home from a scrimmage somewhere. The Defenders weren't trying to get back early to get on their practice field. In fact, the practice wasn't even for Warrior Run's players.
Nope, the Defenders were simply watching another team practice.
It may seem a little weird that a high school team would travel that far to go see someone else practice, but it just so happens that they were watching a professional soccer team, which more than made that three-hour bus drive down I-476 worth it.
The Warrior Run boys soccer team made the trip down to Philadelphia in the preseason to watch Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union work out.
Thanks to the Warrior Run Boys Soccer Booster Club, the Defenders were able to go see the Union play a game back in April. After to some talking with the Union marketing and public relations' departments after the game, the club extended an invitation not many get.
"They could see that we were driving three hours to see a professional game and I think that impressed them a little bit with that commitment," Warrior Run coach Doug Bastian said. "So they offered us an opportunity to see them train and so on."
The Defenders got to see the Union on a recovery day for a two-hour training session. The opportunity to see Philadelphia in a light practice on a recovery day was something that Bastian thought was interesting to see.
The rare chance to see professional athletes not in a game, but rather in a practice, was something that Warrior Run took advantage of.
"It was a great opportunity for the boys and coaches to see the pros at work so to speak in a typical practice session for them and obviously it helped us," Bastian said. "We learned some professional tidbits, regarding how they do things and how they prepare for their next game, as well as obviously developing some team chemistry of our own on the bus trip and the camaraderie of being together for the day."
One thing that stuck out from that day for both the Warrior Run players and Bastian was a simple exercise drill the Union did that day.
The Union would break up into three small teams with six or seven players together in a circle holding hands about four yards in diameter. From there, the team practiced kicking the ball in a circle and juggling it so that the ball never touched the ground and moved as a unit 15 yards together and then back to their starting point.
"It was exciting for the boys to see the boys who are on average, five to six years older, be psyched and build their own team chemistry," Bastian said. "That was kind of a warm up, technical drill kind of thing, but the coach really had them helping each other and talking the whole nine yards and keeping the ball off the ground while holding hands, so it was interesting."
That little drill was a showing of team unity by having all the players work together as a team in each group to keep the ball off the ground. It was something that according to Bastian, the Defenders tried to emulate, especially during the preseason.
The Defenders originally had hoped to talk to some of the Union players after the practice to get tips, advice and just talk about soccer. Unfortunately, since it was a recovery day, the players went to the locker room to get iced down and rest afterwards.
It wasn't all for naught though, as the team got to talk with Union coach John Hackworth who had one simple message for the Defenders.
"His big message, which is a message our team has adopted this year, is 'belief.' Belief in each other as teammates, belief in the coaches, belief in the system (and) obviously the team," Bastian said. "The coaches are trying to make sure it happens each game and throughout each game."
Another thing the Defenders took away was seeing that even though they are professional athletes playing on one of the biggest stages, they' are still human and they still make mistakes and despite that, they don't dwell on it and move forward.
"They came back to Warrior Run knowing the pros are human, too, and to keep things in perspective," Bastian said. "So in that context, it certainly helped build the team chemistry and allowed the boys to realize mistakes are part of the game, you just have to quickly overcome them, both good and bad.
"Can't be patting yourself on the back for a good play as much as you can't be dwelling on a lousy play."
Good plays or bad, the Defenders have come together as a team to stay undefeated through the 2012 campaign thus far (12-0 overall, 8-0 HAC-II) and maybe that talk Hackworth gave them back in August about having belief in the team and each other is a reason why.
NO HANGOVER: You've probably heard of a "Super Bowl hangover," right? It's when the defending Super Bowl champions in the NFL have a "hangover" the following season after winning the championship and don't live up to expectations and usually don't make a deep playoff run.
Well after winning its second consecutive state championship, it looks like the Warrior Run girls are far from experiencing any sort of "championship hangover." Coach Jen Allen has her squad fine tuned and executing perfectly, sitting at 7-0 overall and 6-0 in the HAC-II.
And yes, while they did lose four-year starting goalie Reda Vermilya to graduation, freshman Olivia George has stepped up huge for Warrior Run so far this season. It's tough to replace anyone, let alone someone as talented as Vermilya was, but George has taken the role on and is helping the Defenders succeed.
n Jon Gerardi covers high school soccer for The Daily Item. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jonidial.