Philadelphia Becoming Sports Proving Ground for Israel

During Memorial Day weekend, Israel’s U-19 lacrosse team faced international competition versus the Philippines, Hungary and Greece in the Philadelphia International Lacrosse Showdown at the Shipley School in Lower Merion.

With summertime weather finally upon us, Philadelphia has become a sports hotbed for Israel, as teams representing the Jewish homeland have come here to compete in both lacrosse and cycling over the past few days.
During Memorial Day weekend, Israel’s U-19 lacrosse team faced international competition versus the Philippines, Hungary and Greece in the Philadelphia International Lacrosse Showdown at the Shipley School in Lower Merion.
Team Israel went 2-2 in the tournament, edging the Philippines and Greece in the round-robin phase, while losing to Hungary and Greece in a rematch during the consolation round. All games were decided by one goal.
And on June 5, Israel’s first professional cycling team competed in the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic, featuring the grueling climb up the famed “Manayunk Wall.” Following the race, the team left immediately for New York for the 5 p.m. “Salute to Israel” ride in Central Park.
While that’s hardly the norm, the team felt it was important to participate in both events.
“I know it’s not ideal from a pro cyclist point of view to rush from a hard race to a ride hundreds of miles away,” said 21-year-old Israeli national champion Guy Sagiv. “But as an Israeli, especially being an Israeli champion, this is a great honor to lead the Central Park ride for Israel.”
The Israeli lacrosse team feels similarly honored. It enjoyed its stopover here prior to next month’s U-19 championships in Coquitlam, British Columbia, near Vancouver. Composed primarily of American high school students of Israeli descent, it held its own competing against older international teams in the men’s division.
“It was a different look for them competitive-wise,” said coach Seth Mahler, a Connecticut native who’s lived in Ashkelon, a coastal city near Tel Aviv, the past three years. “But our guys were playing up to the level of the men’s game, which they normally don’t do because they’re still in high school.
“I’m coaching the U-19 team and playing midfield in the men’s tournament.”
That would be in the European Lacrosse Championship July 28 to Aug. 6 in Budapest, Hungary. Israel placed seventh in the 2014 championship and is considered among the favorites this year.
For the 28-year-old Mahler, who played at Whittier College, best known as Richard Nixon’s alma mater, it’s both an exciting and hectic time. Getting to bring his players out to Lincoln Financial Field to watch the NCAA tournament unfold was invaluable both from a coaching and playing standpoint.
“They get to see just how poised people are, how comfortable they are with pressure,” Mahler said. “The tempo and speed of the game. Fundamentals. How to be in the right place at the right time.
“It’s the upper echelon. Guys look how they do this or that. When they watch the best teams do the stuff we tell them as coaches in practice, they see that it works and, if they perfect it, it’ll be effective.”
He’ll find out soon enough if that pays off. Since lacrosse is not an Olympic sport, how the team fares in Budapest will be an indicator of where Israel stands among the rest of the world.
In cycling, however, Israel knows it has a long way to go to measure up with the European and Scandinavian powers — as well as the Americans — who’ve been the dominant teams.
Operating a multinational team in only its second year, Cycling Academy Team, founded by Israeli businessman Ron Baron, already has made significant inroads. Based on results here, the team is making its presence felt and is well on its way to being able to compete at the prestigious Tour de France and other major events.
Finishing 11th in the field in 3:57:50 was Canadian national champion Guillaume Boivin, who actually had the lead until late in the race. American Chris Butler took 26th, followed by Czech Daniel Turk in 28th. Minkel Raim of Estonia in 51st place and Dan Craven of Namibia in 82nd rounded out the Israeli-sponsored team’s top five.
With the race wrapping up somewhere shortly after noon, there was no time to rejoice, because they had to rush to New York in time for the start of the Celebrate Israel Parade, held on the 49th anniversary of the beginning of the Six-Day War. From there, the team will head to Montreal, where it will hold a fundraiser later this week.
On the surface, lacrosse and cycling would seem to be worlds apart in terms of the degree of training and expertise needed to succeed on an international level. But having teams with an Israeli pedigree use Philadelphia as its competitive stage on successive weekends surely brought them closer.
Based on the success both teams had here, it may not be long before they’re ready to take on the rest of the world.
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