Zoe Shaw has high hopes for Israeli softball

UCLA star to play for blue-and-white at European Championships, with goal of qualifiying for Olympics.

June 28, 2019 15:19
Zoe Shaw has high hopes for Israeli softball

Zoe Shaw. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The Israel women’s national softball team will begin its journey to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this Sunday at the European Championship that will be held in Ostrava and Frydek Mistek in the Czech Republic, as well as Rybnik and Zory in Poland.

This year, the top six European squads will earn a spot in the WBSC Europe/Africa Softball Qualifying Event for the 2020 Olympics, which will be held next month in Utrecht, Netherlands.

To get there, Israel will need to finish in the top two in a Pool B that includes Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Austria and Turkey. The blue-and-white will start off the tournament with two games on Day 1, against Ukraine and Turkey.

There are a number of new immigrants from the United States who recently made aliyah with the help of Nefesh B’Nefesh who will be a part of the team, including Zoe Shaw, who just led the UCLA Bruins to the NCAA Women’s Softball World Series. The Los Angeles native is excited about the opportunity to take her game to the next level and play international ball with Israel and couldn’t just pass up that special opportunity.

“The opportunity came up a couple of years ago when I was playing at UCLA,” Shaw told The Jerusalem Post. “A representative from Maccabi USA watched a number of my games and approached me with the idea, which I thought was super interesting, but I wasn’t sure what I was going to do. However, with the encouragement of my assistant coach and a friend who played for the USA team, I was convinced that playing for Israel would be a life-changing opportunity.”

For Shaw, family also helped her move to the Holy Land.

“My parents are my biggest supporters and although coming to Israel by myself was intimidating, they impressed on me that this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It’s important to not be stuck in the same routine and I am happy they pushed me to come.”

With a brand new roster in place and a challenge ahead, Shaw and her teammates are looking to make an impact together.

“I’m familiar with many of my new teammates with Israel because we had played each other in college and many were form the same NCAA Conference as I was,” noted Shaw. “Those who were once foes on the diamond are now some of my closest friends.”

Shaw grew up in the Los Angeles area, in San Fernando Valley, and looked up to her big brother, Brent, for inspiration.

“My brother grew up playing baseball and I followed in his footsteps. I always loved the LA Dodgers and we would go to games all the time, but it was always my brother who I admired the most and his work ethic to be the best he could be.”

That led her to becoming the first girl to play on the El Camino Real Charter High School team in Woodland Hills.

“I played on the boys team up until I was 16 years old, which gave me a good foundation. I was competing against people who had a physical advantage, which taught me a number of lessons about adversity and striving to reach the highest level. But in my junior year, I saw the effects of the boys getting bigger and stronger and my strength became an issue, so I switched to softball.”

The boys on the high school team never had an issue that she was a girl, “but it was more the coaches and parents who had an issue of a girl playing with the boys. My family was amazing in its support, but the outsiders just didn’t get it,” explained Shaw.

Having the opportunity to play at one of the premier schools in the United States and winning at the highest possible level was an incredible experience for Shaw.

“Winning the College World Series with UCLA was a dream come true and we won because we all sacrificed playing for the team and not for ourselves. Our goal was to win every game, battle every game and not take any other team for granted. It was a really cool experience.”

Now with another challenge ahead, Shaw knows that she will do whatever it takes to win.

“Preparing for European Championships has been terrific as there are many new players who have joined the team. I’m a natural infielder, but played outfield at UCLA. However, I’m here to do whatever I can I to help the team win whether it’s playing the infield, outfield or in a utility role.”

The long-term goal over the next couple of months is to make it to the Olympic Games and in order to get there Israel will have to take it slowly but surely.

“Our short-term goal is to take it one pitch at a time and not get too ahead of ourselves,” said Shaw. “We know the ultimate goal is to go to the Olympics and that starts with good basics on defense and offense.”

Israel Softball has also made its way around the country promoting the game and working with children of all ages helping strengthen the sport.

“We have been around the country doing clinics up north in Misgav, down south in Dimona as well as in Gezer in the center of the country,” said Shaw. “It’s been great to be able to give back and work with many different segments of the society across the country.

“How you treat people is the biggest thing that I learned in sports. I always tell my teammates that you want to make sure that you leave a great impression that can impact every child, youth or adult that you meet.”

So far, the Israel experience has been a blast for Shaw.

“It’s my first time in Israel and the support staff around the team has been first class. They have taken care of us from the minute we arrived and it’s been a lot of fun so far. This trip has far exceeded my expectations and I am so used to being in a bubble. But coming here with the chance to meet new people and experience a new culture has been great.”

Has Shaw given the thought that maybe, just maybe, she’ll meet that special someone with whom she can spend the rest of her life in Israel?

“The only thing on my mind right now is softball and focusing on the European Championships one step at a time. But if someone comes along, you just never know.”

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