They came from Ontario and Netanya and Potomac. They play for Yale and Dartmouth and Haverford. And all came to Baltimore’s St. Paul’s School Sunday for the chance to wear the blue and white of Israel Lacrosse. Those selected for the 23-man team will play in the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL) 2014 World Lacrosse Championships.
Thirty-four young men took the field for an exhibition match against the Filipino American Lacrosse Club. With many NCAA-experienced players trying out, Israel handily took the game with a final 18-2. The match was 80-minutes and played by FIL rules and regulations.
The game served as a second chance for coaches to evaluate potential players for the Israel roster. The first tryout took place over the summer in Ashkelon, the team’s coastal-city headquarters. The team selected Baltimore as the site of their U.S. tryout not only because it is a lacrosse hotbed, but also sister-city to Ashkelon.
According to Scott Neiss, executive director of Israel lacrosse, the final roster will be announced in late October. The roster can be made up of half Israeli citizens and half Jewish players from other countries. Currently, the team does not have any “homegrown” players as the sport was introduced to the country only three years ago. “This is why we need to focus on developing youth players,” explained David Lasday, Israel lacrosse’s director of youth development. The team, along with other player and coach volunteers, has been conducting youth clinics throughout Israel, teaching the sport and rallying excitement for the team.
“I tell them we’ll be ranked No. 6 in the world by next year, and that lacrosse will be an Olympic sport in 10 years,” Lasday said. A quick calculation makes the prospect of playing lacrosse exciting for 8-year-old Israelis. This year, Lasday is predicting 150 to 250 kids will take part in their youth program.
Current citizen-players are those who were either born in Israel but grew up in the States playing lacrosse and then moved back, or those who grew up in the States and made aliyah. Minimum commitment to the team from noncitizen players is a dedicated lacrosse trip to Israel meaning the trip is specifically for lacrosse purposes, like working at a youth lacrosse clinic. The goal is not only bringing lacrosse to Israel, but connecting diaspora players to Israel in a unique way.
Five local players are hopefuls including (No. 6) Jason Senter and (No. 29) Matt Greenblatt from Rockville; (No. 38) Ross Koenig from Potomac, (No. 56) Ian Cohen from Silver Spring and (No. 2) goalie David Dennenberg from Baltimore. Senter and Greenblatt both played for Wootton High School before moving on to Florida State and Ithaca respectively. Midfielder and face-off specialist Greenblatt first visited Israel this past June on a Birthright trip and planned to stay for a league and then the tryout. But he fell in love with Israel and shared a group apartment with other players in Tel Aviv so he could extend his stay to play in another league. When asked if he would make aliyah if he made the team, Greenblatt smiled and said he would have to discuss that with his parents.
Defender Senter, who played for Israel on last summer’s festival team, was a standout Sunday.
“I would say standouts were No. 6, Jason Senter; No. 43 Kyle Bergman (midfield); and No. 33 Ari Sussman (attack),” said Sunday’s coach David Waldman. Waldman, who coaches for Great Valley High School in Malvern, Pa., was filling in for Israeli team coaches in order to allow the coaches to evaluate players without the distraction of running the game.
“I’m very pleased with the level of athletes,” he continued. “But was most impressed with their willingness to play as a team.” Waldman was commenting on the fact that this was the first time the players were playing together. He noted how the players worked together and supported each other even though they were individually using the game to audition.
An additional exhibition game is scheduled September 29 in SUNY Cortland as a double-header of the men’s team verses the Iroquois and the women’s team versus the Haudenosaunee. The women had previously forfeited a game to the Haudenosaunee during this past summer’s World Championship when it was scheduled during Shabbat.