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Senior captain Jerel Blades does not need to shake off summer rust after playing club soccer all summer in Brooklyn with two of his teammates.

Credit: Chase Sutton

Practice, school, sleep, repeat. 

The life of a college athlete is taxing. They commit their lives to succeeding, both on and off the field. 

The summer is no exception.

Over the summer, college soccer players continue their careers by joining club teams — generating unique experiences and gaining exposure to new systems and players. 

Senior captain Jerel Blades indicated that playing for a new team in a different environment provided valuable experience. His summer team, the Brooklyn Italians Soccer Club, an amateur team in the National Premier Soccer League, played in a different formation and system than what he was used to at Penn. While that experience won't necessarily translate directly to the college season, more playing time certainly doesn't hurt a player's development.  

“[Playing over the summer] always keeps us sharp,” Blades said. “Being in a good environment with other players from around college soccer, we can come back with no drop off and start again.”

This past summer, Blades, fellow senior Joe Swenson, and junior defender Casey Barone played together for the Italians.  Not only did they keep fresh for the fall, but staying in close proximity with their teammates helped maintain chemistry. 

“[Playing with your teammates] is really awesome. You always want to keep connected throughout the summer and this makes it a lot easier. Keeping that relationship going over the summer really helps,” Swenson said.

In addition to the grueling hours on the field, Swenson and Blades had additional jobs during the summer, mirroring the work and sports balance they have experienced throughout their careers. 

Every player has a unique opportunity playing for club teams. Junior captain Brandon Bartel played for Detroit City FC, a team that has a strong fan base of around 5,000 fans per game. 

“It was a really different experience than what we have a lot of the time in college,” Bartel said.

Teams like Detroit City FC provide further unique opportunities for collegiate players. This past summer, Bartel played clubs from both 2. Bundesliga and Serie A, St. Pauli and Frosinone Calcio respectively. 

“There was a full event that led up to [the St. Pauli match] — there was concerts, festivities and we did a meet and greet with the players,” Bartel said. “I want to say that game sold out too because there were more than 8,000 fans there.” 

Bartel described the game as the fastest paced game he had ever played in. The players on St. Pauli are professionals who make millions of dollars per year, providing a different level of competition than Bartel had ever faced before.

Club experiences often provide a unique atmosphere different from that which any collegiate team could replicate. These teams have loyal fans who support their clubs without hesitation — fully equipped with chants, songs, and smoke grenades. 

Despite the exciting summers, the Penn players were ready to get back to work.

“I was dying to get back,” Swenson said. 

These summer experiences are all steps in the process towards success during the season. So far, the Quakers are 2-0-1 through three games — picking up right where they left off last season.