International flavor|Trio of exchange students bolster Vikings’ hopes

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Swede, a German and a Norwegian walked into the Warren Central soccer program.

No, it’s not an ethnic joke, but an addition that has led to Warren Central having one of its best seasons on the soccer pitch.

Playoff schedule

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1 p.m. – (B) WC vs.

Northwest Rankin

at Jackson Academy

2 p.m. – (G) St. Aloysius

hosts Winona


5 p.m. – (G) Vicksburg

hosts Tupelo

Admission: $7

The three seniors, Jacob Pettersson of Sweden, Tim Hoeptner of Germany and Robert Langeland of Norway, have played a big part in the Vikings’ deepest foray into the playoffs since 2004. The Vikings play Northwest Rankin today at Jackson Academy for a berth in the Class 6A semifinals.

It helped that the Vikings already had the pieces for a playoff run in place. Leading scorer Eric Chappell (a countybest 18 goals this season), Buddy Cook, Matt Waddle and Tre Wilson were already in the fold, along with junior goalkeeper Jamal Brinnon, who has 11 shutouts this season. All are having career years playing alongside the foreign trio, especially Chappell, Waddle (seven goals) and Wilson (five goals).

“We had a good group of juniors coming up, but adding those three seniors has really helped us,” WC coach Greg Head said.

The presence of the European trio has made WC soccer a must-see event. Just ask the WC students who painted their chests at Tuesday’s first-round win over Olive Branch, or the football and baseball coaches who had a tailgate party alongside the field.

“It’s amazing,” Pettersson said. “I’ve never played in a game in front of that many people before. It feels great.”

The crowd isn’t the only difference.

Off the pitch, the biggest shock for the three has been the change in language. Not too many English classes across the pond feature regional dialects. And no, none of the three are putting y’all into regular use.

“Over there, they teach us Oxford English,” Hoeptner said. “Here, it is a bit different.”

Another difference is the soccer played at the high school level in Mississippi. The three said that in their countries, athletes are more apt to specialize and play only one sport year-round. And the quality difference between some of the powerhouse teams in the state vs. the also-rans is also eye-opening to them.

“Some teams have a pretty good level (of skill), but other teams, they have players who have never played soccer before really,” Hoeptner said. “Here, I’d like to play different sports, but you can’t do that at home.”

The level of interest in soccer in the states has also been a learning experience.

“It was kind of a shock for everyone because when I got over here, I took everything so seriously,” Langeland said. “I’d miss a goal and I’d get so angry at myself. Here, it is laid-back and relaxed, which is nice in a way, but if you want to have a career in soccer, you’ve got to start earlier. It’s going to be hard when I go back.”

The three have sampled all that the Magnolia State and the country has to offer with trips to Washington, D.C., New York and Texas. One of their best trips was to the Grove in Oxford for an Ole Miss football game.

“It’s pretty cool,” Pettersson said. “We were in the Grove and people were going crazy there. It was so many people.”

The one thing the three have enjoyed is the hospitality of Warren Central and the country as a whole. It’s something they’ll never forget.

“The whole community cheers you up and supports you,” Langeland said. “It means a lot when people paint themselves up. Hopefully, there are a lot of people coming on Saturday, because I think it’s really going to help us.”

As for the bottom line, the contributions of the trio show up on the stat sheet and the team’s record (15-5).

“You can tell they’re really passionate about the sport,” WC assistant coach Trey Banks said. “We’ve always had a lot of people who play with heart, but this year, everyone is playing with a lot of heart.”

Hoeptner leads the imports statistically, with nine goals and six assists. Most of his goals have come from penalty kicks and free kicks, where he’s a scoring threat despite being part of the back row on defense.

Pettersson stands out with both his blond, spiky hairdo and his ability to win balls at midfield. He’s also shown a scoring touch, with eight goals and six assists.

Langeland has, along with Pettersson, given WC one of the best midfield duos in the state. He has two goals and four assists.

The key for the three, Head said, was their ability to control the middle of the field, a weakness for WC in recent years. Last season, Head would often move Chappell to midfield, but with the three exchange students in the fold, the Vikings now boast one of the state’s best midfields.

“Jacob has got great all-around skills,” Head said. “He’s a great midfielder, he’s got great vision and he really sees the game. Tim brings his knowledge of the game and a strong leg. Robert brings his heart. He’s got good skill and plays with heart. He really wants to win and that rubs off on the other kids.”

Contact Steve Wilson at