OSHAWA, Canada – It has been quite an ordeal for Israel’s national women’s team, making its inaugural appearance at the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) World Cup this week. And that’s even before the team stepped onto the playing field.
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Getting to this Canadian city on the Lake Ontario shoreline, with players and officials spread over a handful of airlines, also involved several unexpected stopovers and lengthy delays due to inclement weather. As one player put it, “Forty hours to get from Tel Aviv to Toronto is a bit too much for me.”
As for the lacrosse, which could see an underrated and unranked Israeli team surprise organizers and advance to the medal round, success could end prematurely – with the team going home without championship hardware or medals.
That’s because the organizers confirmed that the top 10 teams – of the 19 participating countries – will face off in sudden-death and medal-round games on Saturday July 20.
While Israel expressed appreciation to FIL officials for making adjustments to accommodate its six pool games outside of the Shabbat period, there was no budging for the critical games scheduled for next Saturday.
“We’re here to play and let’s hope we do well enough to make it that far – our goal is to get to the Final Eight,” said Scott Neiss, director of Israel Lacrosse and an American-born lacrosse enthusiast, who came up with the idea of an Israeli team during his Taglit-Birthright trip to Israel in 2010.
“After that, we remain hopeful that the country we meet will play us before, or after, Shabbat – and we’re willing to cover any additional expenses covered by them,” Neiss said.
But the FIL has already told the Israeli delegation that this won’t happen. Rules and regulations will not be adjusted for Playoff Saturday, leaving Israel in a tight spot: play or forfeit.
“It’s unfortunate, but as a team we stand by our Shabbat policy [of not playing],” said 26-year old Katie Mazer, a Baltimore native living in Tel Aviv and studying at the University of Pennsylvania. “I think some people may have underestimated our capability. We’ll impress, surprise and represent Israel with a lot of pride, and stand by our tradition. If our biggest problem is not to play on Shabbat, we’ll have to accept that.”
In a carefully worded statement likely not to offend the FIL and prepared by Neiss, the Israel Lacrosse Association issued a response on its website. “As a new sport to Israel, it is imperative we engage and promote the game of lacrosse to the whole of our population. We must make the greatest effort possible to respect our national identity and encourage participation," it said. "We cannot ignore that a reasonably large percentage of our nations’ people, our teams’ players, and our associations’ members and supporters would be offended if we took the field on Shabbat.”
The United States, Australia and Canada are regarded to be the medal contenders in a tournament that drew an odd number of countries when the Czech Republic pulled out.
With five games in six days at the Civic Recreation Complex in Oshawa, Israel’s first pool game contest was on Thursday against Germany, followed by a matchup Friday with Scotland. South Korea follows on Sunday, followed by a game with Hong Kong on Monday. Israel finishes its pool group with a clash against Japan on Tuesday.
Israel’s roster is composed of Israeli players and members of the Jewish Diaspora, in accordance with FIL rules and regulations. The roster was selected after a series of tryouts at the Sportek in Tel Aviv and Hightstown, New Jersey. Before travelling to Canada, the team had a mini-training camp in Tel Aviv, bringing all 21 squad players together (the actual games are 10-a-side).
With a shortage of time to develop a comprehensive strategy, Israeli head coach Lauren Norris instead chose to observe the squad and make adjustments as needed. “This is a talented group,” Norris said. “It may have taken a while to get comfortable adjusting to each other, but I am open-minded and see what works best for them.”
In a 40-minute pre-event scrimmage, Israel crushed the No. 13-ranked Netherlands 12-1, with three U.S.-born players playing dominant roles in Israel’s historic first matchup against another country.
Lauren Dykstra, from Mendham, NJ, and studying at Lehigh University, scored five goals, while Kim Dubansky, from Owings Mills, Maryland, and a student at Johns Hopkins University, contributed three more. Julia Szafman, from West Hartford, Connecticut, and a student at Dartmouth College, was the goalkeeper.