contributed photographs

Leah Wolfe receives a pass during a game against Hernani CD at Lasarte-Oria Sarean.
contributed photographs

Leah Wolfe receives a pass during a game against Hernani CD at Lasarte-Oria Sarean.
After eight days of playing soccer for the Wisconsin International girls’ soccer team in the Donosti Cup at Donostia San Sebastian, Spain, Leah Wolfe returned to the Northwoods with new experiences and skills in her arsenal.
Wolfe said it was a different experience playing against teams from around the world because the tactics used are more passive than the aggressive playing style she is used to playing.
“You see in the professionals or whatever, they’ll all like flop or fake fall or pretend to be hurt and they’ll try to get away with stuff and waste time, and we’re not used to playing like that,” Wolfe said. “We’re always aggressive and we want to not waste time at all.”
The Donosti Cup tournament included around 600 teams of varying age groups and countries, 46 of which were from the United States. In the tournament, each team was guaranteed three games and were then seeded into either the champions’ bracket or the constellation bracket, depending on whether they won, lost or tied their first three games.
Because there were so many teams that needed to play, the games were shortened from 40-minute halves to 25-minute halves, providing an opportunity for teams to try to waste time and win at the shootout.
After winning their first three games, Wolfe’s team was put into the champions’ bracket, where they lost to a team that employed such tactics, kicking them out of the tournament, according to Wolfe’s father, Sheldon Wolfe.
The boys’ team, on the other hand, lost all three of their first games and went into the constellation bracket, where they won the first two games and lost in the third, according to Wolfe.
However, Wolfe met her goal to score a goal in the first game they played and got three assists as well.
Wolfe’s team also represented the United States during the opening ceremony, and she said she won’t forget it any time soon.
“We got to meet teams from all over the world and march with them and take pictures with them, and they like the U.S.A. a lot, so they all want to come by us and take a picture of us and stuff,” she said.
Of course, the girls were focused on soccer but also took some time to sightsee and tour Basque Country, where Donostia San Sebastian is, and a little bit of France while they were there.
Wolfe’s mother, father and two of her brothers came out to Spain with her, and together they took some day trips and excursions around the country when there was time.
“We went into France a couple times, into Bilbao where the Guggenheim museum is,” Leah’s mother Tina Wolfe said. “And so we had the opportunity to tour a professional soccer stadium, a brand new one, and do a lot of stuff besides just the soccer, so it was really cool.”
They also tried different foods, such as paella, a large rice-based dish with rabbit meat, and tapas, a buffet-style snack of mini sandwiches, croissants and quiches found in every tavern and restaurant.
As with any trip, adjusting to the new time zone was a challenge, because Spain runs on the same time as Germany rather than as England, of which they are directly south, making daylight last longer into the day past 10 p.m.
“They don’t tend to eat dinner till after 9 o’clock at night,” Tina Wolfe said. “So there’s a lot of activity, and everybody’s out and about; everybody walks. They all tend to congregate. It’s very social.”
Socializing with the people in the city wasn’t the only socializing they were doing. Many teams were put in places like elementary schools to sleep in, and with six other teams — two German, two Spanish, one from New York and the boys’ team — sharing the same school, they often played some soccer or basketball together.
“It was really fun, and we could interact easily with them and it was easy to talk to them,” Wolfe said.
As for interacting with her own team, Wolfe said she had no problem getting along with everyone, especially since one of her friends from her own team was going with her.
“(Wisconsin International) also selects multiple girls from each club, so Leah and one of her friends from her team got to go together so they’d at least have somebody that they’re familiar with going into it and not just thrown in,” Sheldon Wolfe said.
Not only did the tournament provide Wolfe with some cultural experiences, it also provided her with soccer experience on how other cultures play and helped improve her own gameplay by realizing she had to get better in some areas and playing with a team in which everybody knew what the team goals were.
“You have a particular team and particular teammates on  your team, and now you were put into a different environment where you are not necessarily the best player, and also all the other players were relatively equal,” Sheldon Wolfe said.
This experience also helped open doors for Leah Wolfe by getting her name out, and she is now getting email invitations to selective camps.
Wolfe said if she ever had the chance to play for the team and go back again, she would.
“Yes,” she said. “Hands down, no doubt about it.”
Grace Zaplatynsky may be reached via email at gracez@lakelandtimes.com.