PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC – As the final seconds rolled off the clock in the final of the 2018 Ales Hrebesky Memorial and a title was all but secured for Tel Aviv LC, František Klíma’s mind wondered. The native-Czech was about to win a championship in his backyard with the program he backed into six years before.
“This is street cred,” Klíma said, unable to wipe the grin off his face. “My name is going to be in the records forever. This is street cred.”
Klíma’s name is one of 22 players and three coaches who will always be champions following Tel Aviv’s 6-3 win against Nova Scotia Privateers on Saturday at LCC Radotin in a game Tel Aviv controlled from the beginning. That level of control was a theme throughout the tournament, as Tel Aviv never let an opponent come within three goals in any of its five games.
Tel Aviv started the tournament with dominating 11-4 and 7-1 victories over the Boston Megamen and Istanbul Sultans, respectively, in pool play to secure a spot in the quarterfinals. Tel Aviv played two games in one day Friday, first topping the Bratislava Bats 7-4 in the quarterfinals, then the Alberta Warriors 7-1 in the semifinals.
It wasn’t without adversity, though. After putting up a 78 percent save percentage through three-and-two-thirds games, goalie Bailey Brown was ejected from the semifinal midway through the third quarter for unsportsmanlike conduct. Next, Head coach Brad MacArthur was tossed after his protest of the penalty. Tel Aviv led 7-1 at that point, but with plenty of time left and a potential momentum shift coming, the team had to work extra hard to make it out alive.
“We kept our heads up,” said defender Chris Friedman. “We said that we can do this right here, we just have to lock it down a little bit harder, play a little faster and be a bit tougher. We executed that to a tee.”
Emergency goalkeeper Matěj Zelinka, a Czech teenager, filled in for Brown for his first action of the tournament and closed the game without conceding a goal. Brown’s suspension continued through the final.
“(The match penalty call) took a player out of our lineup and tournament who I believe deserved to be playing that last game,” MacArthur said. “We had to be moving in two situations at once where we were appealing it on one side but still had to put some resourcing toward finding a replacement for when the championship did come.”
Czech goalie Dominik Sika filled in for Brown in the championship game after not playing lacrosse for two years. He posted 11 saves and a 79 percent save percentage.
Tel Aviv gave up only 13 goals combined through the entire tournament, a testament not only to the quality of play in front of the net but also the entire defense. The backline’s athleticism allowed it to stop opposing transitions before they got started, and unlike some other teams that lacked Tel Aviv’s quickness, Tel Aviv was almost always quick to the ball, getting out and filling once the ball rolled its way.
On the bus after the championship game, MacArthur said the team’s tournament MVP was everyone who came out of the back door.
“When your defense is making stops, they’re able to take some pressure off you,” said forward Eric Fischer. “If the other team is not coming back, they’re not getting close, the offense can relax a little bit more, be creative and take chances. The defense is what made our team.”
It wasn’t long ago that Tel Aviv was struggling to compete in this tournament. When MacArthur first got involved five years ago, the team finished last and was not taken seriously by opponents. But now, Tel Aviv is the new king of Radotin, and nothing can ever change that. This was Israel Lacrosse’s second major box title in a calendar year with the program winning the 2017 European Box Championships last summer. With the 2018 World Field Championships coming up in Netanya in July, these last two championships give Israel something to build on.
“If we can win this tournament here with 24 teams, there’s no reason why we can’t medal in the World Outdoors,” Fischer said. “For a while, we were this close. We’re finally learning how to win, how to take care of the ball and take care of games when they matter. The more you win, the better you get at winning.”
Regardless of what happens this summer, what happened last week is never going away, and the celebration afterward proved the team knew it. In classic Israeli fashion, singing, dancing and waving the Star of David went on during the closing ceremonies, on the bus ride home and the party after.
Klíma, who has fully embraced his Israeli brethren as he has watched and helped the program go from worst to first, wears a helmet with the Star of David when he plays with his local club. When opposing players talk about who they will defend, they often say they, “have the Jew.”
“I feel honored when somebody calls me a Jew,” Klíma explained. “We’ve accomplished so much, and I see we are good people. There are people struggling out there and working their asses off. This is what they deserve. This is for all of them.”
–Justin Meyer/WC2018 Staff Writer