ILL players reflect on final game as league enters ‘Coronavirus Break’

IDC Herzliya goaltender Tyler Pepe has 50 saves at the "coronavirus break", good for third in the league
IDC Herzliya goaltender Tyler Pepe has 50 saves at the “coronavirus break”, good for third in the league

It wasn’t an ordinary game day and everyone knew it. 

“Stepping onto the field was like freezing a perfect moment in time,” says Tyler Pepe, Captain of IDC Herzliya’s nascent lacrosse team.

On Friday March 13, 2020, the Israeli Culture and Sports Ministry issued a directive halting all sports activity due to the coronavirus outbreak.

“The health and safety of our athletes is the organization’s primary responsibility above all else,” says David Lasday, COO, Israel Lacrosse. “The responsible action was to immediately comply with the new directives from the Culture and Sports Ministry.  We are pleased our athletes had the opportunity to enter this period of uncertainty with something to reflect back on.”

So when players from Herzliya and Ashkelon LC took to the field on a grey Friday afternoon at the Sha’ar HaNegev School, it felt a bit like a scene from a movie.

“It was a little bit of a sports cliché, we walked into the stadium saying ‘guess we are leaving it all on the field today,’” says Pepe. “The atmosphere was amazing. It felt like the peak of our season.”

There were six games scheduled for the weekend of March 13th. Due to the ongoing expectation of coronavirus restrictions and bad weather, Israel Lacrosse officials and team managers scrambled to get games going with complete rosters. Three of the six games were completed.

On record, Friday’s game was considered a forfeit by Ashkelon, who failed to appear with a complete roster. But rather than send everyone home, not knowing when the next game would be played, organizers did everything in their power to get a scrimmage going, to play one last game, one last hurrah – for now.

Ashkelon's Ronen Abramovich has 21 goals, tied for the league lead at the "coronavirus break".
Ashkelon’s Ronen Abramovich has 21 goals, tied for the league lead at the “coronavirus break”.

“For me personally this game was very important,” explains Ronen Abramovich, an Ashkelon native who is one of Israel’s most promising young prospects.  The club’s top offensive weapon is tied as the league’s leading scorer with 21 goals at the break and was expected to be a breakout star for the national team’s offense at this summer’s U-19 World Championships in Ireland.  Abramovich says the sport has become an integral part of his life and he has met many of his friends through games and practices. Having to say goodbye to them for an unknown period of time gave him an extra push on Friday.

“Knowing that I won’t see them for a long time and that we won’t be able to practice together and play against one another gave me that extra motivation to play my best and make this a fun game,” he says.

Abramovich wasn’t the only one. 

“This game was different,” explains Pepe. “The uncertainty brought something special out of our players. They were electric.”

While on record the game was a forfeit, on the field the game went into overtime, with Ashkelon prevailing 9-8 on a Jake Silberlicht goal in the extra period.  The official record shows an 8-5 win in Hezliya’s favor, masking what would have been a 20-0 forfeit according to the Israel Lacrosse Association.

But at the end of the day, you could say it was a win all around.

“[In these games] it doesn’t matter if you lose or win,” says Abramovich. “The most important thing is to be with my second family, on the same field, and play my favorite sport.”

IDC Herzliya opened the 2020 season strong, going 6-0 with a roster of mostly veteran players in a young upstart league.

“Going 6-0 has not been easy,” reflects Pepe. “Games are close, we battle hard. Our players love the game. Being undefeated means everyone wants to beat us, we see everyone at their best.”

Lacrosse in Israel continues to grow as players like Abromovich are drawn to the sport.  Israel’s men’s league, new for 2020, features five teams and is producing plenty of success stories while providing a regular outlet for athletes who learned the sport in the ILA’s youth programs.  With over 700 youth playing the sport in U-15 boys and girls leagues, school leagues, and formal regular outreach programs, Israel’s top U-19 athletes have been described as “the thin edge of the wedge” by analysts who follow the international lacrosse scene.

“It’s incredible to see how lacrosse is developing in Israel,” says Abramovich. “It’s not a given that there is a first-division league here that allows all players to play, improve and have fun.”

As of now, with the virus continuing to pass from person to person and governments looking for ways to halt its spread, many training camps and events have been canceled or postponed.   Abramovich’s U-19 squad was scheduled to compete abroad in a training event in Brussels from 2-3 May;  the event is widely expected to be cancelled or postponed in the wake of the global pandemic.

“At first it really saddened me to hear that there is a real possibility that they will cancel lacrosse tournaments abroad,” he shares. “But I’m staying positive and believe everything will work out and that is why I’m continuing, and will continue to practice on my own.

“But even if things don’t work themselves out now, I believe I’ll have other opportunities to represent my country as a proud lacrosse player.”

The Israel Lacrosse Association is closely monitoring all relevant advisories and directives associated with the global coronavirus pandemic and is evaluating the impact on events held in Israel and abroad in real-time.  Members of the Israel Lacrosse community are encouraged to bookmark the coronavirus report page on our website, which includes regular updates regarding all relevant advisories and upcoming events.

“This is a difficult time, and we ask all in our community to listen to Health Ministry officials and act responsibly,” added Lasday.  “The State of Israel is known for going to great lengths to protect our citizens, and we are well-prepared as a Nation for what lies ahead.  We have full confidence in our government and public officials.  We are the safest country in the world right now.  The ILA will be the first lacrosse organization in the world to safely resume normal operations.”

–Merav Savir/Israel Lacrosse Association