From July 12 to July 22, a number of Baltimore natives will be competing in the Women’s Lacrosse World Cup in Guildford, England as members of Team Israel, which will be playing in the competition for the second time.
The Israeli women’s lacrosse program has not been around for long. The first national team was formed only six years ago and first competed at the European championship in Amsterdam in 2012, which Sarah Meisenberg, a defender on that team, described as a “festival tournament, for fun.”
However, in the years since, Team Israel has found its footing, placing eighth in the 2013 World Cup in Canada and fourth at the 2015 European championship in Prague. The strong squad set to play in this year’s 25-team tournament is spearheaded by a number of talented Jewish American players, all of whom hold dual citizenship with the exception of three players who are exempt due to their ages.
The team has high hopes for the tournament this year. Based on current rankings, players hope to finish at the top of their division and place in the top five.
According to Megan Lerner, a defender who played for high school powerhouse McDonogh: “The way that the brackets are organized, if we win our division, we would [most likely] play Japan, which would be a really big rival. From there, we would have to play Canada or the U.S., both of which are really talented teams. Any international team is a big rival, but playing Canada or the U.S. or Australia, those teams are full of the world’s best players who are still playing [after college] or who are sponsored athletes.”
Kim Dubansky, a midfielder also from McDonogh, expressed excitement about the talent on this year’s team, citing that many of the players “have competed at the top levels of Division I and also at some very strong Division III schools.”
“Maryland, and Baltimore in particular, is a hotbed for lacrosse,” she said. “That Baltimore has a large Jewish population and a history of strong lacrosse makes it a perfect storm.”
Since Israel is a long way from the U.S., Dubnasky said “it requires a lot of diligence and persistence from us all to train on our own because aside from a few training weekends throughout the year, we don’t have the opportunity to play as a whole team, where some other countries might have more time.”
However, Jenna Bavermen, a defender and alumna of Roland Country Park School, feels that the team is more than prepared to take on any and all challengers.
“We have a lot of talent and will go a lot further this year,” she said. “We are going to be really good, I am excited to see how we look at training camp, but we played Loyola [University Maryland] and other colleges all of this year to prep. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to hold our own when it comes to the rest of world.”
Beyond matching up in international competition, the team has also been invested in spreading lacrosse to more cities and teaching the sport in Israel as a way to promote peace through competition.
According to Dubansky, Israel lacrosse started with Scott Neiss, who worked for Major League Lacrosse and who, after coming to Israel on Birthright, “had an epiphany and the vision to bring lacrosse over and have it become the national sport of Israel.”
Originally, the plan had been to establish a lacrosse program in Tel Aviv and expand from there. However, players and instructors quickly discovered that the city was too big and that kids were already playing basketball and soccer.
However, lacrosse found a foothold in the heart of Baltimore’s sister city, Ashkelon.
Meisenberg, who attended Severn and at 30 is the oldest member of the team, said that the program gets a lot of donations from Baltimore. Additionally, Israeli kids have opportunities to travel to Baltimore and vice-versa and play lacrosse through exchange programs.
Perhaps the most exciting element of this year’s World Cup team is its three native Israeli players, all of whom learned the sport in Ashkelon.
Two other Baltimoreans involved with Israeli lacrosse are also McDonogh alumnae: Hannah Deoul coaches the Under-15 girls festival team; and Lauren Paul Norris is Team Israel’s head coach.
“I was unaware of how many extraordinary Jewish girls there are on the lacrosse field,” said Lerner. “We all have so much love for Israel, and I am so excited to be able to represent it in an international competition, I hope we make the country proud.”