ASHKELON, ISRAEL – The weather was cold and rainy when nearly 80 young men took the field in Ashkelon, Israel to vie for a position on the U-19 Israel Men’s National Lacrosse Team, which will compete at the 2016 FIL U-19 World Championship in Vancouver in July.
The hopeful athletes were comprised equally of Israeli players and Jewish athletes from abroad. The Israelis — 15 to 18 year-olds from Kiryat Gat, Ashdod, Tel Aviv, Netanya, Ramla and nearly a dozen from the host city of Ashkelon — had been nominated as the best of the best from their local coaches. The imports — most from the United States — came from thousands of miles away for the opportunity to showcase their skills to head coach Seth Mahler and his Israeli staff.
Throughout a grueling three-day tryout, Mahler’s staff evaluated the physical talent, field vision and coachability of the athletes.
“There was an array of talent from novice to expert but many of the Israelis quickly established themselves as elite players, which I think shocked a lot of the Americans,” observed Mahler. “It was evident how hard our homegrown players worked to prepare themselves for the opportunity to represent their country and I am extremely proud of their performance.”
The tryout was fast-paced, building up from small-sided drills to full field games. The variety of head-to-head drills helped maintain an intensely competitive atmosphere as the boys worked extremely hard during each session.
The U-19 coaches along with Bill Beroza, head coach of the 2014 Israel Men’s National Team, who assisted with the assessment, were consistently impressed with the showing from the Israel-born candidates.
“Performing at their highest level, a number of Israelis were as good, if not better than some of the American contenders,” said Jeff Schwartz, an assistant coach for the 2016 team.
The sun made an appearance during the last session just prior to the conclusion of tryouts bringing some more typical Israeli warm weather. The players all walked off the field in the sunshine feeling exhausted but strongly bonded with the boys they had just battled, having made connections and life-long friendships no matter the outcome when the roster is announced.
“For an Israel-born player, there is no doubt in my mind that this will be an amazing celebration with their families and friends, when they find out who has made the team,” said Beroza. “And for those that don’t make it, they should be just as proud of their involvement in helping us build this amazing program for so many young Israelis to participate in this great sport and to experience the camaraderie and friendships that this sport is forging for all of the participants.”
Israel Lacrosse will announce the team’s 46-man roster by the end of January. The team will be composed of Israeli players as well as members of the Jewish Diaspora, in accordance with the rules and regulations of the Federation of International Lacrosse (FIL).