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Those in charge of drawing the international netball map might want to consider redrawing the lines and adding Israel in the near future.
For the first time, an Israeli netball team has been invited by Europe Netball and the International Netball Federation to compete in an international tournament, which begins February 15 in Wales.
And Wednesday night at the Yonatan School Sports Hall in Ra'anana, the squad got quite the sendoff to the tournament from a throng of netball supporters and enthusiasts who came to watch an exhibition game between the departing Ra'anana squad and Jerusalem.
Ra'anana won the contest, 29-16, behind team founder and captain Jodi Carreira's 11 goals, but regardless of what the scoreboard read at the end of the exhibition, Israeli netball as a whole left the sports hall a winner, as Ra'anana carries the flag for the country by stepping forward onto the international stage in less than two weeks.
The Jerusalem squad, comprised of players who meet three times a week to play in more of a casual setting, put up a strong fight, competing evenly with Ra'anana after the first quarter. Jerusalem was led by Shoshana Berman's game-high 13 goals.
The leap to the developmental tournament that runs alongside the European National Championships pits Ra'anana in a round robin-type tournament with developmental teams from England and Wales.
The jump has been a long time coming, said Carreira. "It's been going from playing in Park Ra'anana, a few girls and a ball that I got for my bat mitzva, to playing in an international tournament," she said. "That's quite a growth.
"We've worked really hard the last six years to get to this level. It's a great achievement."
Wednesday night's event had more importance than just being a bon voyage party for Ra'anana. Having her club participate in an international tournament is crucial, but Carreira has taken it upon herself to be an ambassador of the game as well, trying to get youth involved.
Growing interest has significant implications for the future of Israeli netball, especially as it starts to get noticed on an international scale. Some spectators at the event might be able to assist Carreira in her cause.
"We had a few teachers here who are interested in putting it into the schools, which is a huge plus for us because we need the youth to develop it," Carreira said. "It's a very important base for us."
Teammate and Israel Netball Association president Judy Aknin echoed those sentiments. "We need the two channels," she said. "We need to continue playing with the Jerusalem club and perhaps start another club elsewhere, but we also need the youngsters coming into the sport, otherwise there won't be any continuation of it."
Prior to the exhibition contest, children between nine and 12 years old from Ra'anana, Jerusalem, and Kfar Saba played a game, followed by a juniors and seniors mixed-teams game (ages 13 and older) involving players from Ra'anana, Jerusalem, and Kfar Menahem.
While the Ra'anana club has experience playing against other countries during the 2005 Maccabiah, the upcoming tournament will offer the best chance yet for Ra'anana to have contact with other international netball players, and to get Europe Netball to notice them, Aknin said.
"We want to show the International Netball Federation and other countries that netball actually does exist in Israel," Carreira added. "We really know how to play the game, we enjoy the game, we have a passion for the game. For them, seeing that it really exists is more important than us being there."