EUROPE – Southern Vermont College rising senior Nicole Matthews (Pittstown, N.Y.) seized a spectacular opportunity this summer as she recently competed for American International Sports Teams' (AIST) softball squad during a 10-day tour through Paris, Belgium, and Amsterdam.
The Mountaineer captain was invited to participate with AIST in May of 2016 after her sophomore season at Southern Vermont; that campaign saw her get named to the All-New England Collegiate Conference Third Team before being selected as a 2017 Fastpitch News Division III Preseason All-American. Matthews then elected to go on the June '17 AIST tour and helped her team go 4-0 over the course of the European trip in the latter half of the month.
"One thing I am looking to bring back from my experience from playing those teams and meeting the players over there is: learning to play for fun again," Matthews said. "Sometimes, people get so caught up in sports just to win, but the girls we played against—no matter what was happening on the field—they were having fun. Those girls are choosing to play because they love the sport and love to have fun while playing it."
The AIST was incorporated in 2001 as a way for athletes to experience sports on an international stage. Teams are comprised of athletes who are recruited and who earn roster spots through various tryouts. The organization has helped participants travel to more than 22 countries since its inception.
"It is a huge honor that Nicole had the chance to represent SVC overseas," said Mountaineer head coach Paige Gage. "Playing there is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I'm sure she will remember forever. Being able to represent Southern Vermont in Europe is incredible!"
In addition to hitting the diamond for the four contests, Matthews and her team had the chance to visit many of the popular sites and landmarks including the Eiffel Tower and the Montparnasse Tower in Paris, the city of Bruges in Belgium, and the Amsterdam canals.
"One of my favorite parts of our trip was our bike tour though the city of Amsterdam," Matthews recalled. "It was a really fun and different way to see the city. Some of the most meaningful parts of the trips came from after the games; many of the other teams either gave us little souvenirs or put on a meal for us after a game so that we could all hang out together and get to know each other."
The 2017 AIST Amsterdam softball team played under the guidance of Elizabeth Economon—a recently-hired assistant coach at Wichita State University. Prior to her June 29 appointment for the Shockers, Economon was the head coach for Division II's Pittsburg State University since 2012.
"I would definitely recommend the trip to a teammate if they were to ever get the opportunity to play abroad," Matthews added. "Not only did I get to learn about and experience the culture that I was in, but I got to meet a lot of new people and now have friends from all over the country and the world."
Visit aist.us to learn more about the international travel group and its history.
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