Local Anglo Jocks to Watch in the Maccabiah Games

Line-up of Israeli stars in sabra-unfriendly baseball, softball, netball, rugby.

For three years and 353 days every quadrennial, they are on the margins of the mainstream Israel sports scene but come Maccabiah time Israel's teams with Anglo origins get a chance to feel right in the middle of things.

The national baseball, softball, netball and rugby squads are all gunning for medals in the coming 12 days.

The Open softball tournament started off yesterday with Israel in good form as it defeated Mexico, "which we had trouble beating in the past," said Israel Softball chief Ami Baran. "So our young team looks pretty good. They'll have to face the tough teams like the USA and Canada, and Cubans aren't bad but we're gonna try for one of the medals. It can be done."

Baran said the women's squad will also have a challenge with the USA and Canada, "so we'll have to see how that will work out." He added, "USA is usually the tougher team to beat."

Baran noted the Masters tourney is a whole new program, but it happened thanks to Maccabi's Ricky Landau, who brought on board Venezuela as the fourth team. "Venezuela struggled but got it together," he said. "I'm hoping our Masters will put a fight."

Israel's junior baseball team, which recently finished second in Prague, has an uphill battle that does not deter coach Amit Kurz. "As in any tournament I expect to win.

It's very competitive so it probably won't be an easy competition. we're hoping for the first time to get more than bronze silver or gold," said Kurz, noting the tournament only has three teams.

"We're pretty much relying on the same team in Prague," he said. "Key players are Yotam Ben Amram, who is one of the better pitchers. Tal Erel our catcher is a little injured but we're hoping he'll be able to play. Also Noam Calisar at shortshop."

Springboks join fray

The senior Netball tournament expands to four teams this year thanks to the addition of South Africa. While Australia is the perennial gold medal winner, Israel's Jodi Carreira has confidence in her team's prospects.

"I think the girls are playing amazing," she said. "We will definitely give the Australians a run for their money."

The Senior team is made up mostly of players from Ma'aleh Adumim, which had an undefeated run in the Israel league regular season but was upset in the semifinals by Jerusalem. The co-captains of Israel are Brenda Benaim of Ra'anana and Shoshana Berman of Ma'aleh Adumim.

Israel's juniors, also in a four-team tournament are mostly from the up-and-coming Katamon squad. The team co-captains are Katamon's own Talia Sterman and Yael Chitiz from Ra'anana.

Israel's Rugby 7s squad has already claimed silver, as did the junior 7s squad, with the events happening on Wednesday already.

Menachem Ben Menachem told Haaretz that Israel is not done on the rugby front, however. There is still the 15s event, and while Israel settled for fourth in 2009 he said he is sure the national team will get a medal this time out.

He said Tel Aviv has the most representation with slightly more than Jezreel.

The team will be counting on strong performances by captain Yonatan Kaplan and Tel Aviv's Nathan Amos, who recently returned from Ireland. 

Nir Keidar