There was good news and bad news for the Israeli men's and women's teams on the opening day of the flag football European Championships in Pinto, Madrid, on Thursday.
The Israeli women came out strong, shutting out Switzerland 47-0, but then had an off game and was trounced 37-0 by Germany. The women bounced back to beat host Spain 39-26 and then suffered another bad loss, 54-0 to European champion Austria, to finish the day 2-2.
The Israeli men lost a heartbreaker in their opener to European champion Denmark, 30-26. They nearly won in the last minute, but a Dani Eastman touchdown was called back for flag guarding. The men bounced back to trounce host Spain 37-13, to finish the afternoon 1-1.
Yael Freedman led the women with three touchdowns in each of the wins, with Shana Sprung doing most of the passing in the women's victories.
Eastman, David Abell and Johnny Ephrat all excelled on offense, taking in scores thrown by Alex Swieca. Eastman did double-duty playing defense and also excelled, along with Binyamin Schultz and Bibi Goodman.
The women’s team, coached by Yonah Mishaan and sponsored by the Kraft family, has a grueling schedule, having to meet all eight other teams – Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Spain, Britain and Switzerland – over three days. Three teams are eliminated, with the top six reaching Sunday’s medals round. The top-ranked countries are reigning gold and silver medalists Austria and France.
As well as Spain and Denmark, the men – coached by Yossi Fuchs and assistant Alan Tover – still have to play Sweden, France and the Netherlands. The other group includes second seed Austria and number three Italy.
It’s a new look women’s team, which was revamped after a disappointing ninth-place finish at last year’s World Championships in Italy. Leah Schigveschuurder takes over as starting QB. The 25-year-old sabra only discovered the game at age 15, when she joined WAFI. She is a natural thrower and has an array of experienced receivers, led by World Championship MVP Freedman, snapper Rachel Shmidman, Jessie Sagoskin, as well as newcomers Shoshana Krug and Esther Feldhammer.
Defensive coach Alisa Sagoskin has a deep group anchored by longtime QB Sprung and veteran Sarit Bailey. Safety Adina Brickman is taking a year off to have a baby and will be sorely missed. On the bright side, speedster Joy Davis is back on the squad. Aliza Shore takes over as an able pass rusher. The sturdy defense is rounded out by Dylan Masri and Aviva Singer.
Any discussion of the men’s team begins with World Championship MVP Eastman, who led the Israeli tackle team to victory over Spain in Madrid last month. Eastman is regarded as the top receiver in the game, and he’ll hook up with the pinpoint accuracy of QB Swieca, now graduated from Michigan University.
The talented receivers include veterans Abell, snapper Ephrat and Yonatan Halberstadt. Newcomers Gideon Reiz and Misha Belov give the team added depth. Schultz anchors the defense, along with pass rusher Chanan Kupietzky, safety Avi Ettinger and Goodman and Ariel Schwartz.
The women’s team is managed by Nadia Brenner, while Effi Gorodetzer manages the men.
The four-day tournament concludes on Sunday.
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