Indiana State University Newsroom

#TheExperience: Sycamore soccer team makes its mark on Morocco

June 2, 2014

As Air France passengers settled into their seats for the eight-hour flight from Paris to New York, the usual announcements from the flight deck crackled overhead.

But as the beverage cart started to make its way down the aisle, a different announcement interrupted everyone’s in-flight movies. Although in French, the message sounded familiar to a group of Americans on board. They stopped what they were doing and listened a little closer.

The next time was in English: “We would like to welcome aboard and congratulate the Indiana State University women’s soccer team. They are returning home after a trip to Morocco, where they won two games.”

Home. After nearly two weeks abroad, with suitcases filled with souvenirs and dirty laundry, camera phones loaded with hundreds of selfies and new tan lines courtesy of the Moroccan sun, home is a place that never seemed so distant and was never so fondly sought.

Yes, the Indiana State University women’s soccer team had traveled to Morocco as ambassadors for their alma mater. They had won both of their games and later had a good showing at individual competitions. They had soaked in some of the country’s spectacular sights, and now they were going home — to their own beds and their mothers’ home-cooked meals.



The Sycamores were guests of the fifth annual Sous le Haut Patronage de Sa Majeste le Roi Mohammed VI tournament, organized by Indiana State’s Moroccan sister school, Hassan I University in Settat.

“This trip could not have happened at a better time for us. We’ve become closer; I’ve seen the different players interacting with each other in a way that I don’t always get to see,” said head coach Erika True. “We needed this time to learn about each other.”

El Houcin Chaqra, associate director of Indiana State’s Center for Global Engagement, has led many excursions to his native country over the decades, but this trip stands out as one of the best.

“They have represented Indiana State University very well. They were the best ambassadors that we could send here to Morocco. They have done an excellent job. Everybody is talking about them,” he said.

While moving a large group of people through malls, mosques and markets is never a quiet or inconspicuous undertaking, this group of lovely and spirited 19 and 20-somethings turned heads and attracted attention wherever they went.

“People love them here. I hear from the president (of Hassan I University), the dean, from his assistant, from other faculty, students: All of them like our students … how they interact with people,” Chaqra said. “Our students did an excellent job representing our university and our state and our community. I’m glad I came here and worked with them.”



When they took to the field, the Sycamores hammered out a win against Casablanca team Raja, 2-1, in their first of two international-friendly matches. The win wasn’t as easily secured as the scorebook might suggest.

“I had a little bit of a learning curve on game one,” True said. “I stepped out like I normally would, and I didn’t think about the communication issues and how I could react to not being able to communicate.”

Luckily, one of the Sycamores’ midfielders was able to provide an assist.

“Katrine Baker stood out for her play, but she was also the only player who spoke French and could actually communicate to the referees. It put her in a position of a leadership role that I liked. She kind of stood out among her team,” True said of the rising senior from Las Vegas.

The field itself — best described as vintage artificial turf covered in a layer of sand — was also an unexpected factor. American fields have transitioned away from first-generation turf because the unforgiving surface causes injuries, a concern not lost on True. She gave the players their choice of whether to play in sneakers or cleats.

Maddie Orf, a midfielder from St. Charles, Mo., needed to make a mid-game shoe change — a move that unexpectedly earned her a yellow card penalty. Later, the junior laughed off the unexpected penalty: “Hashtag: I Got A Yellow Card In Morocco.”

Maggie Richard made the first score about 20 minutes into the first half off a corner kick by Gaelen Stejbach. Natalie Vaught dribbled through three defenders and scored the second point during the second half.

The Sycamores learned early in the second half that the game was being officiated under strict international rules, which limits player substitutions, and because of injuries, had to play a man down. With about 15 minutes left in the game, Raja scored its only point.

For their second game the next day, the Sycamores played on a nearby grass field, and the 2-1 victory over Casablanca team Wydad was an intense, bench-clearing game.

“I think as we hit game two, we were more prepared with more translators around; we knew who needed to be by my side the whole time. I think our kids understood how to communicate, as well, and we got better. But it was difficult. It was definitely a challenge. That is something you don’t do every day in the coaching world,” True said. “In any situation, we try to adapt, so we have success. And we do. We did. We have two wins here in Morocco. That’s a good feeling. It’s a good showing for us.”

Wydad went on the board first, scoring around the 20-minute mark of the match. After a series of questionable calls by the officials that cleared Indiana State’s bench with about 15 minutes left to play, the Sycamores scored both of their points within minutes of each other. Abby Reed connected with the net first, with an assist from Alexandra Rodas. Orf then put Indiana State on top, with some help from Reed.

While a spirited match for both teams, the women left it all on the field.  They posed for photos after the game and shared a traditional Moroccan lunch of couscous, steamed vegetables and stewed meat.

“It’s such a different game to them,” said goalie Brittany San Roman, a rising sophomore from Glenview, Ill. “Overcoming that and winning our games is the biggest feeling of achievement ever. Even though they were supposed to be fun games, it’s no greater feeling than winning.”

Forward Kylie Sumner agreed: After this experience, the team will never again complain about referees or getting fouls called.

“It’ll make our team closer with being able to pull together when we’re all stressed and we’re all mad and we want things to go our way and they don’t,” said Sumner, a rising junior from Cincinnati. “We will know how to calm each other down and work out and push through any circumstance that we have to get through.”

The next two days, the Sycamores’ success continued with their individual competitions. Defender Kayla Welch, a sophomore from St. Charles, Mo., placed first in the 100-meter dash — despite a bad case of the nerves.

“It was terrifying. I don’t think I’ve ever been so nervous. My legs were honestly shaking, but it was good to hear everyone else in the stands. That kind of helped a little bit, but I’m not a fan of (individual sports). I’d rather have my teammates around me,” Welch said.

The team and other individual winners, including Sydney Loesing, 1st place, long jump; San Roman, 2nd place, shot put; Orf, 2nd place, 800-meter run; Aubrie Musselman, 2nd place, 1-mile run; were honored at the tournament’s festive, music- and dance-filled closing ceremonies.

Their athletic obligations fulfilled, the Sycamores repacked their suitcases, boarded their buses and headed to Marrakesh. The students toured historic landmarks and shopped at a traditional Berber market before departing for some much-needed downtime in the coastal cities Essaouira and El Jadida. They rode camels and horses on the beach, learned to wind surf or shopped in the old medinas.

Their accommodations at the Ryad Mogador hotel in Marrakesh were the nicest of the trip — and owned by the family of Indiana State student Ayoub Chaabi. Coincidentally, Maddie Orf and her teammate Maggie Richard were in a business class together this year with Chaabi, but they never made each other’s acquaintance. Orf even sat by Chaabi.

The business students made up for lost time, as Chaabi accompanied the team for dinner and a show at Chez Ali, the Moroccan equivalent of America’s Dixie Stampede or Medieval Times. Dinner was served while traditional dancers performed in brilliantly colored tented rooms, which were positioned around an arena, where after the meal, riders performed equestrian tricks and a belly dancer entertained. 



The students will forever carry a piece of Morocco with them.

“Their culture, to me, seems really fascinating — just how polite everyone has been, especially at the banquet we went to, how they enjoy dancing and having a good time and making everyone feel welcome,” Welch said.

The team learned that the things they take for granted everyday are luxuries in a developing country.

“I’ll be so much more grateful for everything that I have. I have a lot more than many of these people over here,” Sumner said. “It’s crazy to think that sometimes when we complain about the food we get or not having water for something and then you think about the people who don’t have the water or don’t have the food. I will definitely be more grateful when I go back to the United States.”

Chaqra said he hopes the experience will whet the students’ appetites for future travel abroad and cultural experiences. Or maybe they’ll just strike up a conversation with that international student in their classroom next year.

-30- -- Maggie Richard, left, and Emily Chura express their frustration during an intense match against Casablanca team Wydad. The Sycamores won 2-1. -- Brittany San Roman defends the goal during an intense match against Casablanca team Wydad. The Sycamores won 2-1. -- The Indiana State University women’s soccer team poses for a photo in the Hassan II Mosque in Casablanca. -- Maddie Orf competes in the 800-meter run during the Olympics-like tournament competition at Hassan I University in Settat. -- Aubrie Musselman interacts with a dancer at Chez Ali, a dinner-and-show establishment similar to America’s Dixie Stampede or Medieval Times. -- Abby Reed and Maggie Richard ride a camel at the beach in Essaouira, Morocco. -- Alexandra Rodas looks at traditional Moroccan dresses while shopping in Marrakesh.


Writer: Libby Roerig, media relations assistant director, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3790 or