WALLA WALLA - Michael Bathurst, a starting goalkeeper on the Whitman College men's soccer team for the past two years, is getting a head start on training for the 2012 fall season.
Bathurst, a 6-foot-3 junior, flies out of his hometown of Portland on Saturday to spend his two-week spring break in England, training with the Stoke City Football Club.
Bathurst will train primarily with the older players in Stoke City Academy, which sponsors teams for youth of all ages, in part as a feeder program for its professional side.
As a member of the Barclays Premier League, Stoke City's professional team competes at the highest level of English soccer, taking to the pitch against such storied teams as Manchester United and Chelsea.
Stoke City, the second-oldest football club in the world, plays its games in Britannia Stadium, which seats about 28,000 fans. The club recently added a state-of-the-art training facility that includes nine locker rooms, medical facilities, dining area and administrative offices.
While Bathurst expects to spend most of his time with Academy players and coaches, he looks forward to watching the "first team" train and prepare for its Premier League games.
"I'm not really sure what to expect in terms of the training program," Bathurst said. "I'm obviously not there to work with the pro team, but I'll be using the same training facilities. There will be opportunities to see how the pros approach their workouts and game preparations."
The Premier League season, which got underway last August, is in its stretch run, and Bathurst hopes to see at least a few games while in England.
Bathurst's training opportunity was arranged by Whitman coach Mike Washington, a native of England who has spent the past three decades coaching in the states.
"One of my old friends from England lives in the Tri-Cities and has contacts at Stoke City," Washington said. "He helped put this together for Michael. While he's in England, his lodging expenses at one of the athletic clubs will be very reasonable, and he'll be able to eat at the football club."
Arranging such training opportunities for U.S. players like Bathurst is well worth the time and effort, Washington says.
"Michael loves soccer and works extremely hard to make himself the best player he can be. He's going to benefit from this training trip, and he's going to appreciate it. He also does a great job representing Whitman and our soccer program. Helping put Michael in this situation makes sense for all the right reasons. It's a no-brainer."
Washington, who helped arrange a Spring Break training trip for two of his Whitman players (Stephen Phillips, Brett Axelrod) in 2009, is in his 14th season at Whitman. Every four years, he also organizes a two-week summer-time training trip to England for his entire Whitman roster.
As Bathurst endeavors to strengthen his goalkeeping skills, his most immediate concern is this fall's Northwest Conference season. Whitman has finished second twice in the past four seasons, and older players in particular are focused on winning a league title in 2012.
"In a way it's become a win-the-league-or-bust mentality, and there's nothing wrong with that," Bathurst said. "The hope is that every guy on the team buys into this mentality and fully commits to doing everything possible to help us win every game."
Bathurst, a graduate of Portland's Lincoln High School, began his college career at Occidental before transferring to Whitman. He started 10 games as a sophomore and was the full-time starter last fall, posting six shutouts and compiling a 9-4 record in league play.
He was named NWC Student Athlete of the Week for defensive players early last October after notching back-to-back shutouts on the road. In one of those games, Bathurst withstood a second-half barrage from the opposition, making five saves 12 shots and 11 corner kicks.
An economics major, Bathurst has plans for law school after Whitman, but the law might have to wait a bit.
"I'd love to keep playing soccer for as long as I can," he said. "I also love to travel. I'd be willing to go just about anywhere if it meant I could keep playing soccer for awhile longer."
In looking ahead to his trip, Bathurst has already set up an internet blog to share his grand adventure.