Israel suffered its first loss at the World Lacrosse Championships on Wednesday night in the coastal town of Netanya, missing out on a chance to make it to the final four of the tourney after falling to Australia 9-6.
The team, ranked seventh in the world, will compete for fifth place in the championship after losing in the quarterfinal round in front of a hometown crowd.
It’s a huge leap for a team that did not exist just a few years ago, with Israel becoming the first non-English speaking country to ever host the quadrennial tournament.
The tournament, which takes place every four years, is normally played in the US, Canada, Australia or England. It’s being hosted in Israel this year due to the fast growth of lacrosse in the country, said David Lasday, chief operating officer of the Israel Lacrosse Association. And it’s the largest championships ever.
On Tuesday, Israel walloped Ireland 16-4 to make the quarterfinals, having squeaked past the Philippines 11-8 in a tense game the previous day.
It will face either Japan or Scotland on Thursday in a battle for fifth place.
The game of lacrosse came to Israel in 2010 when New York native Scott Neiss visited Israel and began creating a professional team.
“There are 46 teams [in the world] now, so to be seventh among 46 is pretty impressive,” said Lasday.
Coach William Beroza, an American Jewish player in the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame who helped found the Israel Lacrosse Association, said the team is still seeking to improve.
“The level of competition between the first six teams is a lot higher than in the next six teams,” said Beroza, “and we think we are approaching that level of competition.”
A major component of the team’s success is support from Jewish American lacrosse players, said Lasday.
“Those players coming over have been crucial to the development of lacrosse in Israel,” he said.
Ori Bar David is the only Israeli-born player on the Israeli national team, and the rest are American-born, said Beroza. There is, however, a generation of Israeli players who will soon end up on the national team, he predicted. There was only a handful of lacrosse players in the country when it was started in 2011, he noted, and now there are several thousand.
The July 11-21 tournament will help further that goal by promoting youth development, said Lasday. For that reason, the games are being played in Netanya, the city with one of the strongest youth lacrosse programs, he said.
Lasday believes lacrosse can become the national sport of Israel.
“It is a sport our nation can improve at very quickly.” he said. “It is more of a strategy game and not about how big you are. That is something Israel is very good at.”
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