While Sunday’s womens/mens doubleheader at Ashkelon’s New Municipal Stadium is arguably lacrosse’s most unique event across the planet, there is no argument that the Ashkelon lacrosse community is in for a treat, as the highest level of the sport outside of North America kicks off an exciting summer in Israel.
The Israel women’s and men’s national teams will take on the Birthright/USA All-Stars. The women kick off a little after 7:00 PM, while the men’s game starts around 8:45 PM. A big crowd is expected to be on hand to take in the action.
Who are the Birthright/USA All-Stars?
Israel Lacrosse has partnered with Amazing Israel (www.amazingisrael.com) and Taglit-Birthright (www.birthrightisrael.com) to allow 40 collegiate athletes — men and women — to tour the country, teach the sport to young Israeli athletes, train, and compete in exhibition games against the Israel men’s and women’s national teams.
Sunday night’s doubleheader are those exhibition games, and, while the teams are actually competing in a two-game series, Sunday’s opener is being touted as the big evening of the two in Israel’s “lacrosse capital”.
The Birthright/USA All-Star squads — which are deliberately wearing red, white and blue uniforms — are stocked full of talent, but with only one practice (and a lot of team bonding) under their belts, it’ll be a case of how quickly they can gel as a group if they’re going to take down the more seasoned Israel squads.
What can we expect from Team Israel?
The Israel women’s national team is loaded with talent, and Sunday’s game is the squads first test ahead of the 2015 European Championships in August. The team is well-prepared, well-balanced and has plenty of depth, as the nearly the entire squad has NCAA experience in the United States before relocating to Ashkelon, where they practice several times weekly.
The men are a different story; after earning a #7 world ranking following last year’s World Championships in Denver, the blue-and-white are focused on September’s indoor championships and scouting talent for the 2016 Euros. Per national policy, Team Israel has a firm residency commitment in place to compete in Europe, ruling out some of last summers stars such as Ari Sussman and Ben Smith. With several other stars perhaps unavailable as a result of military commitments — such as Matthew Cherry, Noah Miller and Jake Silberlicht — the men will really need to show their depth if they intend to defend their home turf.
Players to Watch
Birthright/USA All-Stars (women)
Lindsay Weiner, Boston University – Weiner wrapped up her collegiate career with 42 goals and 54 assists. Look for her experience to lead the offense for the All-Stars.
Jayme Verman, York – Verman, who led the Birthright women in scoring in 2014, is back in-country on an internship with the Barak Netanya Lacrosse Club. Verman, who transferred from Ursinus to York this year, adds some needed depth at midfield for the All-Stars.
Jenna Baverman, Hofstra – Baverman, who will actually compete for Team Israel at the 2015 FIL U-19 World Cup, is a young but promising prospect for the Israeli program and Hofstra alike on defense.
JoJo Auerbach, Dickinson – Auerbach started every game for Dickinson in 2015, earning a 42.3% save perentage and a 11.61 goals against average.
Israel Women’s National Team
Jessica Rothstein, Lafayette – Rothstein, who scored 23 goals in her Senior season for Lafayette, is back in Ashkelon and hopes to lead the blue-and-white with her scoring punch.
Courtney Miller, Colgate – Miller scored 59 goals for Colgate from midfield in her Senior season in 2012; her commitment to make Aliyah to Israel is a huge boost to the teams hopes to medal at the European Championships.
Hannah Deoul & Hannah Epstein, Middlebury – The twin Hannah’s, who both played defense for Middlebury, share a first name, a school, a position on the field, and they’re also roommates. They’re also both tremendously talented. They’ll be hard to beat on Sunday.
Julia Szafman, Dartmouth – Szafman, who has lived in Ashkelon since 2013, is the only goalie rostered and has played every minute in goal in the history of the Israel women’s national team.
Birthright/USA All-Stars (men)
Aaron Mathias, Amherst – Mathias scored 36 goals in his Senior season at Amherst. With the strength of the All-Stars on defense, Mathias will need to find his scoring touch on Sunday.
Nate Archer, Cornell – A storied high school player from Alexandria, Virginia, Archer red-shirted his Freshman season at Cornell due to injury. Sunday marks his return to action.
Evan Kalish, Bellarmine – Kalish leads a tremendously strong and deep All-Stars defense which will surely frustrate Israel’s offensive players.
Gabriel Weissmann, Middlebury & Justin Isaacs, Ithaca – Both keepers served in backup roles for their collegiate teams in 2015, but one will need to step up for the All-Stars on Sunday.
Israel Men’s National Team
Mitch Goldberg, Richmond – The 6-4 forward is the Richmond’s all-time leading scorer (points and goals) and is the first player to achieve 60 goals in program history. Goldberg, who is being groomed for Israel’s 2018 world team, spends his summers in Ashkelon.
Seth Mahler, Whittier – A member of Team Israel since 2012 and a resident of Ashkelon since 2013, Mahler brings veteran leadership to a midfield unit that will need to utilize its depth effectively to run for a full 80 minutes with Team Birthright.
Jonathan Rathauser, McGill – The veteran defender started every game for the blue-and-white in Denver’s World Championship last year. Rathauser has been a member of Team Israel since 2012 and has a strong familiarity with the defense.
Reuven Dressler, Yale – The 42-year-old Ma’ale Adumim doctor is expected to start on Sunday, and will look to stop players who are half his age.
While the depth and familiarity of Israel’s women will be too much for the All-Stars to handle, the Birthright men will eek out a victory over the blue-and-white in a defensive nailbiter.