Every January and August since 2019, Demi Pierre has had to leave her parents and dog in her hometown of Gävle, Sweden, to reconnect with her teammates for the Towson women’s soccer program. Despite regular training, Pierre continues to struggle with leaving.
“I’m a very emotional person,” she explained. “So goodbye is my least favorite thing on this planet. Leaving my parents is not fun.”
Maja Hansson, who is from Sandviken, Sweden, and usually accompanies Pierre on those flights from Stockholm Arlanda Airport to BWI Marshall Airport, said her teammate is not exaggerating.
“I don’t like goodbye either, but she’s worse than me,” Hansson joked.
Pierre and Hansson are the Scandinavian representatives among the Tigers, who are leaning towards the duo for the upcoming season. Pierre, a redshirt junior midfielder who turns 22 next month, compiled seven points on two goals and three assists in 18 games, including 17 starts, last fall, while Hansson, a junior defensive midfielder who turned 21 last month, started 16 games last year for a Towson team that went 8-7-3 overall and 3-5-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association.
The Tigers, who open the season against Howard on Thursday, believe they can contend with UNC Wilmington and Hofstra for what would be its first conference title.
“They’re here for a reason,” coach Katherine Vettori said of Pierre and Hansson, who along with current junior forward Nia Christopher (John Carroll) of Bermuda and former forward Jodie Burchell of Australia are her first international recruits. “They want to win a championship, and that’s why we brought them here.”
How the Tigers discovered Pierre and Hansson is equal parts determination and serendipity. Shortly after Vettori was hired in January 2018, she asked former assistant coach Cheyenne Spade, who planned to play professionally for a club in Sweden, to scour the country for some prospects.
After receiving a positive report on Pierre from Spade, Vettori visited Sweden in June and then traveled two hours by bus, train and walk from Uppsala to Sandviken, where Pierre’s club team played a match. In that match, Pierre scored three goals.
“I’m like, ‘OK, let’s go,'” Vettori joked about his immediate desire to bring Pierre to Towson.
Hansson was in Pierre’s team and also impressed Verroti. “I was like, ‘I like that one,'” Vettori said. “Calm, strong, agile, a packed player.”
Pierre – who is equally fluent in Swedish and English thanks to his mother Linda, who was born in England – had always wanted to travel somewhere to play football and get an education. So she quickly committed to the Tigers.
However, convincing Hansson took little effort from Pierre and Vettori.
“I didn’t think it was that serious, to be honest, because I hadn’t even thought about going there,” Hansson said of Vettori’s interest. “But Demi kept calling me and texting me, ‘How do you feel about it?’ I was like, ‘Sure.’ So we kept in touch.”
Pierre’s American education began in August 2019 as she tried to control her asthma in sweltering weather that reached 100 degrees. In her second college game, she scored both goals in a 2–0 win over Mount St. Mary’s on August 29, earning CAA Rookie of the Week honors.
However, a week later against UMBC on September 5, Pierre tore the ACL in his right knee and missed the rest of the season. Classmate Phoebe Canoles, a Perry Hall graduate, tore her cruciate ligament in the same game, and the pair underwent surgery the same day and recovered together at Canole’s parents’ home in Baltimore.
Still, Vettori admitted she was nervous that Pierre might get discouraged and fly back to Sweden with no plans to return.
“It was a scary time for me and for the staff because we were wondering, ‘Is this going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? Is Demi not going to want to be here? Rehab is hard and it’s a long process,'” she said. “But because they went through everything together, they ended up coming back stronger than ever.”
Pierre said the injury made her grateful for the sport and has helped her take better care of her body by stretching before and after the game. She said she didn’t consider leaving her teammates.
“I didn’t want anyone to say, ‘That girl came for three weeks and went back,'” she said.
During Pierre’s first year at Towson, she and Hansson kept in touch often through FaceTime and text. Hansson got a feel for life at an American university and Pierre helped Hansson navigate some of the paperwork required for a visa.
“Obviously I would miss my family,” Hansson said. “But I went in with the mindset, ‘What have I got to lose?’
Both players said they have had to adapt to the style of soccer played in the United States. They said there is more emphasis on individual play and up-and-down aggression in America compared to Sweden, which tries to get its players to work as a unit on the field.
Pierre and Hansson have also embraced the cultural differences. Hansson noted how often Americans don’t take off their shoes in their rooms or homes, and she misses Fika, the Swedish ritual of slowing down during the day by spending time with family or friends over coffee and candy—a practice that some workplaces also require. .
Pierre said people in the US are friendlier and more outgoing. She also misses McDonald’s in Sweden, which offers hot wings, chili cheese dogs, curry sauce and crispier nuggets and fries.
“Swedish McDonald’s is second to none,” she said. “But I still love McDonald’s.”
Homesickness was a central theme in a legendary April Fool’s joke in 2021. Pierre, Hansson, Canoles and assistant coaches Matt Dwyer and Brad Hartin came up with a system where Hansson had booked a flight to return to Sweden, even gathering information for a certain flight from BTI to Stockholm.
Canoles contacted Vettori and pretended that Hansson had sworn her to secrecy. They finally ended the prank after about an hour when Vettori got into his car to drive to BWI.
“I was in complete panic,” Vettori said. – It was very well played.
Such anxiety has since passed. Pierre studies psychology and marketing, while Hansson studies criminal law. Both said they plan to pursue professional football after graduation – either here or back in Europe.
Vettori described Pierre and Hansson as professionals in the dressing room and on the pitch. She said Hansson provides a calming presence on defense, while Pierre is a spark plug on offense.
Vettori said the duo also act older than their actual ages.
“It’s just the maturity level,” she said. “They’ve had to grow up, especially going to a foreign country.”
Pierre and Hansson have occasionally been reminded of at home in the form of opponents. During a corona pandemic-shortened spring 2021 season, they played former UMBC midfielder Alicia Hiis from Örebro, Sweden. And last fall, they played Temple midfielder Moa Andersson of Valbo, Sweden, whom they’ve known for years.
For now, Pierre and Hansson said their goal in the final three years of eligibility is to help Towson capture the CAA championship.
“I feel like we’ve been building and working for so long,” Pierre said. “I think we’re really starting to change things. I feel like it’s time.”
Thursday, 7 p.m