Flourishing in Israel, lacrosse continues to spread its wings and fly

The 2019 European Lacrosse Federation Women's Championship took place in Israel last month. The Israeli women's national team won a silver medal.

THE ISRAEL WOMEN'S NATIONAL LACROSSE TEAM celebrates after a victory during last month's European Championship, in which the host Israelis captured the silver medal (photo credit: ODED KARNI)
THE ISRAEL WOMEN'S NATIONAL LACROSSE TEAM celebrates after a victory during last month's European Championship, in which the host Israelis captured the silver medal
(photo credit: ODED KARNI)
Lacrosse is one of, if not the fastest growing sport in Israel. Players say it is popular not only due to the excitement of the game itself, but because it is a way to bridge the divide between Israel and other countries.
The 2019 Women’s European Lacrosse Championship took place in Israel last month. The Israeli women’s national team won a silver medal, coming in second place behind England.
The blue-and-white made its international debut in 2012 in the European Lacrosse Federation Women’s Championship, which was held in Amsterdam that year. Today, Israel is ranked second in Europe and sixth in the world.
In 2018, Israel was the first country outside of the United States, Canada, Australia and England to host the Men’s World Lacrosse Championship, in which 46 countries participated and millions of fans from all over the world watched as lacrosse’s largest stage came to life in the Jewish State.
The Israel Lacrosse Association estimates that over 2,000 Israeli children are playing the sport, which originated as stickball, a sport played by Native Americans. Modern field lacrosse is a contact sport in which two teams compete for possession of a rubber ball using metal sticks with mesh nets.
Women’s lacrosse is another modified version of men’s field lacrosse, where there are certain restrictions on movement and physical contact.
But, how did Israel’s program get so robust in less than a decade?
The ILA is the official governing body of lacrosse in Israel, and is a member of the Federation of International Lacrosse and the European Lacrosse Federation. Israel Lacrosse was founded in 2010 by Scott Neiss, who previously served as an executive for the National Lacrosse League in the US, along with William Beroza and Howard Borkan.
Much of the sport’s growth within the country can be attributed to outsourcing from North America – whether it be players, coaches or information. Israel and North America have always shared a strong bond when it comes to politics and it seems to roll over into the sports arena as well.
Many American immigrants are part of Israel’s lacrosse league. With lacrosse being most popular in North America, it’s also where much of the top talent on the Israeli women’s national team originates from.
One of those players is MacEllen McDonough, who played lacrosse for Jacksonville University.
McDonough now lives in Israel and has continually proven herself to be one of the country’s top scorers and playmakers on the international level. She also coaches youth lacrosse in the Herzliya area in addition to working with other outreach programs aimed at growing the sport within Israel.
McDonough’s journey to Israel started with Birthright Lacrosse. She first traveled to the Holy Land with that program and in the process began speaking with the Israel lacrosse staff, who recruit players of her caliber.
The lacrosse staff invited McDonough to stay in Israel for a year, make aliyah and take a major role in coaching youth lacrosse programs within the country.
That is exactly what she did.
McDonough said that the Israeli team is making headlines on the international stage, with most of the team compiled of women from the United States who, like her, have made aliyah.
This year, for example, there were four women who came from the United States to participate in this program. They live in Israel, teach youth lacrosse and, like McDonough, play on the women’s national team.
In addition, there are many players who participated in this year’s European international tournament who previously made aliyah from the US that are not currently living in Israel, as well as some exemption players who do not hold Israeli passports.
The women’s team also included seven highly competitive native Israeli players, all under the age of 20. The goal for the Israeli women’s national lacrosse is to have more Israelis join the team every year.
This year, the Israeli national team made it to the final of the European Championship, where it faced a dominant English side that had beaten the Israelis 13-3 earlier in the tournament.
“We came out weak, I think, when we played them at first,” said McDonough. “We weren’t playing our game in the first half. Second half, they got a couple quick [goals] on us and we kind of tried to play it smart and save our legs for the rest of the tournament.”
With a shift in strategy, the blue-and-white fared far better in the battle for the gold medal, with England pulling out a hard-fought 10-7 victory. While not the desired outcome, the tightly contested final demonstrated the potential of the young Israeli squad.
Many of Israel’s lacrosse outreach programs take place under the auspices of Ayelet, the Federation of non-Olympic sports in the country, which provides support to these initiatives all over the country. Israel Lacrosse also receives funding from other sources, including the Kraft family of New England Patriots’ fame.
“The Israeli team has proven that the lacrosse industry is alive and kicking in the State of Israel,” said Ayelet President Arik Kaplan. “It is an outstanding achievement of a young team that overcame the European lions. The fact that the national team qualifies for the World Games gives us a great incentive to continue to promote and invest in the sport.”
While the on-field results are certainly crucial to the sport’s growth in Israel, what takes place off the field out of the competitive arena can be equally impactful.
The main objective of local lacrosse outreach programs is to teach youth lacrosse in Israel and bring the North American bravado to the Israeli playing field.
McDonough has her own junior team in her full-time role as Herzliya Program Director and Coach.
“I’m teaching their [under-15] boys a few times a week in the afternoon,” she told The Jerusalem Post. “During the schooldays, we have a few recruiting visits a week where we will go into schools and teach kids lacrosse and try and get as many phone numbers as we can to try and place them on teams. We also recently started a box lacrosse league in high schools, which is really cool.”
In addition to the U15s, there are also U19 and U20 teams run by the same program.
McDonough used to coach youth lacrosse in the United States as well, so she is no stranger to the day-to-day life of a lacrosse coach. As a part of her position, she puts together practice plans for her team, teaches the players offensive sets, footwork, stick skills, shooting and best practices in order to get the kids to a competitive level on the field.
“I really love it and I’m really invested in the program and I feel like I’m getting a lot back from the kids,” she said.
She loves watching them get into the sport.
“During the European Championship, all the Israeli kids that came – some of them came all the way from down south, late at night to support us and watch our games – were the best fans I have ever had,” McDonough explained to the Post. “I have never ever felt that supported at a girls lacrosse game before, in my whole life. And I thought that was so crazy, these kids are so invested in the program, and all of Israel lacrosse is a huge family.”
The women’s silver medal proves even further the traction the sport is gaining throughout the country.
Much of the success should be rightfully attributed to the North American volunteers and players who left lives, jobs, families and friends to spend their time volunteering for what they believe to be a greater cause than themselves – the education and welfare of the children of Israel. McDonough is just one of these examples, and there are many that have preceded her and many more to follow.
“All the kids that we coach are the most respectful and grateful kids,” noted McDonough. “They seem really mature and they express how thankful they are for us coming from the States to coach them.”
In the coming years, the world of lacrosse will certainly be keeping an eye on Israel – the fastest cultivator of the game globally – to see what it can do on its home field and beyond.
For more information on Israel Lacrosse, or to learn how to get involved, please visit www.lacrosse.co.il

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