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MacEllen McDonough of the Israeli Womens National Lacrosse Team.(Photo by: TYLER BORON ORTIZ)
Host-country Israel defeats Ireland in Women’s European Lacrosse Championship
Israel shares a qualifying group with England, so has a hard road ahead to winning this year's tournament.
The 2019 European Lacrosse Federation Women's Championship, which is being held in Israel this year, has been heating up in Netanya, where hundreds of women from sixteen countries have completed the first six days of the 10-day tournament in the Israeli summer's scorching heat to see who will be Europe's winner - including countries such as England, Spain, Germany, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, Netherlands and Switzerland.

Israel has won three of its first four games, including wins over Germany on opening night in Jerusalem (13:2), Scotland Wednesday night (12:6) and Ireland just last night (12:10). Israel's only loss was to the perpetually dominant English team on Thursday night losing twelve goals to three. England has won each of its three games so far by a margin of at least nine goals.

Currently ranked fourth in Europe and sixth in the world, the Israeli women's team has made quite a remarkable impact on the sport, considering that lacrosse only became competitive here less than a decade ago.

Israel remained dominant over the Irish team from start to finish. US-born Emily Resnick, who played for Syracuse University; MacEllen McDonough from Jacksonville University; Rachel Rosen from Penn-State; and Alison Curwin, who played at James Madison University – all whom have made aliyah – scored all of the team's points. All while defensively keeping command over the Irish team, even as strategies started to even up towards the second half of the game, with Ireland almost coming back to even the odds.

Israel shares a qualifying group with England so it has a hard road ahead to win this year's tournament. Nevertheless, the sport continues to grow as Israel hosts this year's premier European tournament. Whatever the final result, the lacrosse community in Israel is hopeful that there will be a positive impact from holding the tournament here on young Israeli boys and girls who may be unfamiliar with the sport, encouraging them to try it out for themselves - as well as showing the world what the Israeli women's team is capable of.

Lacrosse is the one of Israel's fasted growing sports. The women's team made its international debut in 2012 in this same championship, which was then held in Amsterdam. The Israel Lacrosse Association (ILA), estimates that over 2,000 children are playing the sport in some capacity. In fact, the first generation of Israeli players are now old enough to compete on the national team. The impact that American sports culture has on Israel cannot be ignored as well, and has contributed to the traction the sport is gaining in the country. There is even a program run by Taglit called Lacrosse Birthright, trying to bring these Diaspora Jews to Israel through the allure of the sport.

Just last year, Israel was the first country outside of the United States, Canada, Australia and England to host the Men's World Lacrosse Championships (WLC), where over 46 countries and millions of fans from all over the world watched as lacrosse's largest stage came to life in the Jewish state.

For those unfamiliar with lacrosse, the sport originated as stickball, a sport played by Native Americans. According to World Lacrosse (formerly the Federation of International Lacrosse), anywhere from 500 to 100,000 players would play in a game. The fields could stretch for several miles, with competitors playing from sunup to sundown. In addition, there essentially were no out-of-bounds, so the matches could be played on fields stretching from one village to the next.

In the aboriginal Native American version of the game, due to the fact that teams consisted of large numbers of players – sometimes entire tribes – large packs of those involved would gather together on one spot of the field, fighting one another for the ball, causing the concentrated field of play to move slowly from one side to the other.

Players moved the ball from one end of the field to the other by sheer force and will, mostly due to the fact that passing the ball was interpreted by these original groups as a trick and a cowardly act, pressuring these competitors to face their opponents head-on by either dodging or bull-rushing them. No protective equipment was worn in this form of lacrosse.

The game was played in part as allegorical warfare, sometimes between rival tribes. Those who played were symbolic warriors and would ritualistically paint their bodies, decorate their lacrosse sticks, dip them in spiritual water, and hold special ritual dances and pep talks the night before a match.

In some legends, such as within Seneca folklore, there are claims that the original balls used in aboriginal times were made out of wood, stone, deerskin or clay – or even the heads of enemies, although it can be inferred that instead of actual human heads, the tribes were referring to the physicality of the game, where players would often get seriously injured on both sides throughout the match, part of the game's bloody history. There are also claims that the wooden balls used were carved into the shape of a human head, which could have added further confusion to the legend.

A French Jesuit missionary observed the game being played by the Huron Indians in 1636 and called it “lacrosse,” which means "the stick" in French. Over the centuries, the game was modified by European colonizers of North America (including Canada) to include less players and shorten the time of the matches. The game was then modified by contemporary enthusiasts and competitors until becoming today's modern field lacrosse - played both professionally and collegiately throughout the world.

As a tip of the cap to the Native Americans who invented the game, the Iroquois, a native North American tribe, won the bronze medal in 2014, proving that their storied relationship with lacrosse commands respect. They are the only Native American team authorized to play a sport internationally.

Modern field lacrosse is a contact sport in which two teams compete for possession of a rubber ball using metal sticks with mesh nets. Points are scored by shooting the ball into the opposing team’s net. Different positions have different sticks: attackers have a short pole for possession and mobility, defenders have long sticks for checking the ball out of attackers' nets and blocking shots, and goalies have short sticks with wide nets to make saves. Ten teammates can be on the field at a time and teams carry 23 players on their rosters. Rules also dictate which side of the field or where certain players can be located during specific times of the game. For example, only six players can be on the attacking side of the field at once; for one player to cross the midfield line and join the attacking party, another must come back to defend.

Box lacrosse, popular mainly in Canada, is a modified version of field lacrosse. Played on a field within a hockey rink, it is much more physical and played with far less players: only six on each side.

Women's lacrosse is another modified version of men's field lacrosse, where there are certain restrictions on movement and physical contact – like a life-size game of chess, but moving much faster.

The sport has continually been dominated by both the United States and Canada since the first WLC was held in 1967, and the sport continues to gain prominence within those countries, mainly in America's northeast region. Field lacrosse has slowly been gaining traction across the rest of the country, similarly to Israel, with many formerly unknown colleges and major league teams making names for themselves in both unexpected times and places.

The Israeli men's team defeated a capable Japanese team in 2014 to claim seventh place, a remarkable achievement considering how young the sport still is here. Like today, the native Israelis on the national team were also joined by US players who have made aliyah.

Over the next few days, the world of lacrosse will certainly be keeping an eye on Israel – the world's fastest adopter of the game – to see what it can do on its home field and beyond.

David Drucker contributed to this report.

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