Women's Basketball After the Tip-off, a Drama-filled Season

Hapoel Tel Aviv's sensational 3-2 playoff semifinal series win over Anda Ramat Hasharon was one of the highlight's of last season.

Arie Livnat
Arie Livnat
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Arie Livnat
Arie Livnat

Hapoel Tel Aviv's sensational 3-2 playoff semifinal series win over Anda Ramat Hasharon was one of the highlight's of last season, but if Ra'anana/Herzliya's Tatiana Troina hadn't missed a free throw in the final second of her team's game against Hapoel with only two rounds of league play remaining - Tel Aviv wouldn't have even made it to the playoffs.

The women's league is no stranger to drama, but last season was truly exceptional. Hapoel Tel Aviv and Maccabi Ramat Chen fought throughout for fourth place, but in the end found themselves challenging each other for the championship.

The 2006/07 season, which gets under way tonight, can be expected to be as tightly contested and dramatic as last season, perhaps even more so.

Unlike the men's Premier League, where it is a case of Maccabi Tel Aviv and all the rest, there are several teams capable of competing for the women's championship.

"There are five or six teams that will fight it out at the top," says Ramle coach Eli Rabi. "Ramat Hasharon and Ramle hold the edge, although Ramat Chen has also come up a grade, financially and professionaly. Hapoel Tel Aviv and Ra'anana will also put up a fight. This league is always competitive and this season will be even more so than in recent years."

Elitzur Holon's veteran chairman Menachem Weidhoren echoes that sentiment. "It's going to be a very competitive and high level league this year. Ramle and Ramat Hasharon have invested the biggest sums of money, but Ramat Chen and Ra'anana are also capable of putting up a challenge for the championship. Any result is possible in this league."

Hapoel Tel Aviv coach Ro'i Eisenberg believes his team's incredible finish last season has altered the balance of power in the league. "The small teams have learned from us and have gone for a roster built around guards. There won't be any cannon fodder in the league this season. Holon and Jerusalem aren't bad at all."

"This season will be even more competitive than last," concurs Ramat Hasharon coach Orna Ostfeld. "Despite the war, all the teams managed in the end to make strong foreign signings, allthough some of the players are rookies who will need time to learn the league. It's going to be tough playing against teams with different styles, especially teams that didn't bring in front-court players, but will instead play with guards."

Ostfeld thinks the league will be so competitive that she isn't even willing to make a prediction. "After last season, how can you even try and predict the champion?" she asks.

But while there is a consensus that competition will be tough, not everyone agrees that the title can actually be prized away again from one of the big two: Ramat Hasharon and Ramle.

Ramat Chen chair Ora Glazer is optimistic, however, that this can be done again. "Ramat Hasharon and Ramle have huge budgets, but who knows," she says. "Hapoel Tel Aviv took the championship last year even though it wasn't even considered to be in the running at the start of the season, and we all remember what happened to Ramat Hasharon. I always aim high and I told the players that I want to climb up another level this season and I think everybody knows what I mean."

Ra'anana/Herzliya chairman Asher Peer is also feeling ambititous after several seasons in mid-table. "This season I am not ashamed to mention the word 'champion.' Ramat Hasharon and Ramle may have budgets that are double ours, but we have outstanding Israeli players and we saw last season how Hapoel Tel Aviv took the title even though it wasn't the best team in the league."

But Ra'anana coach Tal Natan pours a little cold water on Peer's expectations: "When Ramle and Ramat Hasharon are strong, it is going to be a difficult task to take the championship off them. Hapoel Tel Aviv won the championship last season and all credit to them, but don't forget Ramle wasn't in the league. One of the big two might get knocked out of the running, but both of them is a lot to ask. If I had to put my money on it I would bet on Ramle and Ramat Hasharon in the playoff final."

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