Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Dutch offer European style

Pia Rijsdijk made a bold decision in 2011. She chose to leave her homeland, Numansdorp, Netherlands, in search of new experiences. She left her old life behind to join the Crimson Tide 
soccer team.

She was the first international player on the team, and it was her decision that helped shape two other Dutch players’ decisions to join the team. Rijsdijk is joined by seniors Merel van Dongen and Maruschka Waldus, both of whom are also from the Netherlands. Van Dongen is from Amsterdam, while Waldus is from Heerenveen. The Crimson Tide also has an assistant coach from the Netherlands, Erwin van Bennekom. Together, the four have reshaped the Alabama soccer team.

From the first time Rijsdijk, forward, stepped on the field to now, Alabama hasn’t been the same. With the additions of van Dongen and Waldus, the Crimson Tide has brought together two very different styles of soccer together.

Growing up across the pond, the three girls were not just teammates and opponents. They were also close friends. It was coach Todd Bramble who saw Rijsdijk and van Dongen play in the Lamongan tournament in Spain for the Netherlands U-19 team. Bramble was on a mission to broaden the recruitment horizons, saw both girls play and was intrigued. Both girls were interested, but van Dongen said it came down to timing.

“Pia, No. 9 [on the team], was the first player who was asked and who actually committed to Alabama,” van Dongen said. “It didn’t really fit in my life at that point. A year later, I heard all great stories, and it was still in the back of my head that I would love to play in the United States and stuff like that. So I talked to Pia and kind of was like, ‘I’m going to do it anyways, but a year later.’ So then it was me and Pia here. This year we had another Dutch friend, Maruschka, come here. And that’s how it all started actually, with the national team.”

Since Rijsdijk and van Dongen joined the Crimson Tide, the team has been totally transformed. Alabama is more aggressive, concise and thoughtful when it comes to games. It’s no longer just an American style of play; it’s both Dutch and American.

This trans-Atlantic playing style sets this team apart from the rest of the conference. Alabama currently sits at No. 6 in the SEC and is almost assured of going into the post-season. In previous years there were glimmers of post-season possibilities, but this season is different. Alabama is faster, on the ball more and focused on possession. Waldus said there are a lot of differences between the two playing styles, but it’s working for the team.

“A lot of Dutch people ask me what’s the difference of play, but I think it’s really hard to compare it,” Waldus said. “But if I have to compare it, here the play goes faster and it’s tougher. In Holland it’s more [about] possessions.”

Even with the differences in style, the way the Dutch players compete works well with the rest of the team. Bramble said they bring a lot to the team in every aspect of the game.

“I think it’s been multi-faceted, but really it’s been well-rounded,” Bramble said. “They’ve been good teammates and they’re good people. They’re great players and really good students. I think they’ve been the people in our community who our fans come out to the games to see play and appreciate them and enjoy having them here. So I think they’ve added a lot of value to our program.”

For two years it was just Rijsdijk and van Dongen, midfielder, playing for the Crimson Tide. The two have been friends since they were 16 years old. Both girls started during the 2012-2013 season, van Dongen’s first year with the program. Last season, van Dongen suffered a season-ending knee injury that left Rijsdijk alone to start.

Now both girls are playing together again, but this time with another friend, Waldus. Waldus, a defender and midfielder, transferred in from Johan Cruyff University this season. All three have played together back in the Netherlands, and when word broke that Waldus would be joining her friends, van Dongen said she and Rijsdijk were ecstatic.

“Both Pia and me knew Maruschka,” van Dongen said. “We’ve been friends since we were 16. And we talked to her, of course, a lot like ‘It’s awesome here, we want you to come.’ So when she committed a couple months ago, we were so happy.”

With all three Dutch players competing this season, the Crimson Tide has seen a significant improvement. Together, the three have posted a cumulative seven goals out of a total of 33 this season. Waldus and van Dongen have nine total assists. Waldus and van Dongen have each scored game winning goals as well.

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