It is 9 AM which is usually the time we head downstairs for breakfast… but considering we got off of the bus only 4 hours ago, I am guessing I am the only person up right now. We pulled into the base this morning at 5 AM after one of our shortest bus rides. It was only a 7-hour drive to the city we played in, Ryazan. Usually we depart Voronezh the night before the game and either train or bus through the night and then check into a hotel the morning of our game to get a bit of sleep before the game and some food. We literally just rent a room for a couple hours and then after the game jump back on the bus to head back to Voronezh. But because the pressure to win is on, we got some special treatment… low and behold, a full night sleep before the game proved to be a successful tactic!
Taking a bathroom break on the drive to Ryazan.
The Cameroon girls and I found out the hard way that there are poisonous bushes in those weeds... luckily we didnt squat too deep... but my legs broke out in a lovely itchy/burning rash after this bathroom break. None of the Russians bothered to tell us that though... they just laughed at us while we complained and scratched.
Eating our lunch on the bus... hard boiled eggs, cucumbers, and tomatoes and an orange. YUM
Ximel's silly walk... for those of you who know what I am talking about!
We arrived in Ryazan after the 7-hour bus ride on the evening of the 10th just as a trickle of rain started coming down. We were told to be ready for training in half an hour and so we went up to our rooms to get ready. But within the half an hour the rain went from a trickle to a flash flood. Literally the streets were flooded. On our way to the field there must have been 2 feet of deep rushing water that used the road as its riverbed. Luckily the Energy Bus was a beast and plowed right through… but it was almost for no good reason because the field was partially submerged and in no good condition for training. The drainage system around the field was so clogged that we were forced to hang up the boots and take up water polo for the day. Seriously though, it was so bad that when you passed the ball it would either stop in the huge puddles across the field or skip away so fast you couldn’t control it. It was a very frustrating practice and probably not the best for confidence building when the pressure of a must-win game is on.
We slept well though, that night, put up in the nicest hotel we have stayed in so far. The bed was comfy, the room was carpeted, the shower was warm… it was like heaven! We woke up the next morning, ate some breakfast and then had the majority of the day to kill before our game at 630. So, naturally Ximel and I walked around Ryazan exploring and taking pictures. If there is one thing I have noticed about Russia it is that all of the cities are pretty much built with the same house or apartment design, same road quality and same store model system. Even in Saransk, where it was much quieter than Voronezh and Moscow, the living situation of the people was the same as in the big cities. Ryazan was no different. The houses were exactly like those surrounding the base. They were located off what was once a paved road that has since been worn back to pot-marked dirt roads because of the lack of care and harsh weather conditions they have been exposed to.
One of the Ryazan Cathedrals
The typical apartment/house entrance
Nature will prevail!
Then, we had the usual lunch of cucumber-tomato salad that is dressed with olive oil and dill… It is going to take me many dill-less months to cure me of my developed dislike but dependence on dill. It is literally the only herb they use in cooking here. I will say I am so tired of the food here. There is no flavor and every meal I sit down to I think about some spicy Mexican, Italian, Indian or Thai food. Sometimes thinking like this makes it harder for me to eat, but sometimes I can make myself believe I taste a bit of curry spice in a mushy cabbage bite. Anyways… we had the usual cucumber-tomato salad, plain chicken breast and spaghetti plate for lunch, of which I ate the cucumbers and tomato and some chicken. Then we had a meeting and headed off for the game.
The weather was a bit humid and warm, but it was good playing weather. The field had drained since the night before and so it seemed like a perfect evening for a game. This game, as our next two are, was a must-win if we want to keep our 2nd place ranking.
We were by far the better side and had plenty of chances, but once again went into the locker room at half time tied 0-0. Once again, not a good thing… because our half times are spent with little focus on how to improve the match and more on personal attacks of why we didn’t score one particular shot, or why we decided to play football when we would be better fit for a sport like ping-pong or karate. So, needless to say after half time we were once again a bit deflated. Lucky for us though, the referee made a crucial error and awoke the sleeping giant within our team.
I will say, with no apology in my voice, the referees here are the worst. They are not afraid of showing favoritism or of making outrageous game changing calls. Anyways, about 20 minutes into the 2nd half they played a long ball over the top and our goalie came out to get it. Our goalie and their girl got to the ball at about the same time just outside of the box. The ref called a handball on our goalie and gave her a straight red card. So there we were tied 0-0 in a must win game now having to play a man down and without our starting goalie. Then, to make matters worse, our coach decided to take out our outside mid, Tia, who is undoubtedly one of our best three players. None of understood that move, but it was enough to make us all angry and thus, awake the sleeping giant.
From that point on we were relentless, constantly pushing forward to score and purposely going into tackles a bit harder and maybe even a bit dirtier for the unfairness we had been dealt, once again. Then, I got a ball on the top of the 18 at the left corner… I cut the ball to the inside and played a diagonal ball across the 18 to Njoya who laid it off to Simone at the top of the box… she sent a powerful shot into the upper corner of the near post putting us up 1-0! It was a brilliant goal. Then, shortly after Simone scored another goal off of a cross to put us up 2-0. We fought hard, and I am very proud of this win. It was a very tough match but I am proud of the way we responded and it was enough to give us hope that we can still keep the 2nd place! And, to give us even more hope that was our last travel game and we have a full 2 weeks before our last two games. Girls will be gone with their national teams during this time, which will give us time to recover an practice before we play Rossiyanka again on the 25th.
After the game we went into the locker room, showered up and jumped back on the bust to ride through the night to get home. The summer sun is not very nice to sleepy bodies and eyes here. The sun didnt go down until after midnight and came back up a little after 3 AM. I know this because I have a pretty tough time sleeping on that bus and I watched the sun set and sun rise over the beautiful Russian landscape to pass the time. Although, it has gotten easier because (if you remember that picture of my first bus ride with the feet occupying my seat...) Nana's feet and I have made peace and come to an agreement that she can put her feet anywhere on my seat so long as she they dont touch me.
We stopped on the side of the high way for a bite of dinner.
Stretching and waiting for the roadside picnic set up
Post game dinner...
We were joined by our head coach, his son who is the president of the club and their personal driver.
Glad to say that that was our last travel game and now we only have 2 more games. We have 2 weeks until the next game during which many girls will be gone, so I am sure Ximel and I will have more pictures to show you in a few days!
I hope everyone is doing well back at home!
All my love