Having first visited Israel when she was 10, Sam Ellis came back to the country last month.
The return trip, though, was no vacation as Ellis was in Tel Aviv for a training camp with the Israeli squad as it prepared for the 2013 FIL (Federation of International Lacrosse) Women’s Lacrosse World Cup.
“Our week in Israel was great,” said Ellis, a Princeton University women’s lacrosse star who wrapped up her Tiger career this spring with 20 points on 16 goals and four assists in her senior campaign.
“The chemistry was instant from day one. The coaches did a great job of picking the team. No matter how hot and tired we were, we had a good time. We had only 18 players and 2 alternates so we couldn’t scrimmage. We started with basic drills. We did a lot of 7-on-7. We grew a lot as a team over the week.”
Ellis’s appreciation for Israel grew as the team got to do some sightseeing and interact with the people.
“We went to the beach,” said Ellis. “We went to the Dead Sea. We went to Jerusalem, we saw the Wailing Wall and the Holocaust museum. We got to explore Tel Aviv, going to markets and buying souvenirs for our families. We were exposed to religion and aspects of Judaism. We saw what a big event Shabbat (the Jewish sabbath) is. On Friday afternoon, the stores start closing down and everything shuts down through Saturday. It is not just a religious thing, it is part of the culture. We saw that everyone does it and that it is a way of life.”
The exposure to Israeli culture helped Ellis and her teammates bring a special spirit into the competition, which took place in Oshawa, Canada from July 10-20.
“It was very interesting to find a spot with a new team,” said Ellis, a 5’5 attacker who hails from Bryn Mawr, Pa.
“You get in and you show what you can do and at the same time you look to work together with other players. There was no rivalry between the players; everyone was happy to play with each other. There was a communal bond; everyone was just wanting to represent Israel. We wanted to make a splash and make a name for Israeli lacrosse.”
Playing in its inaugural World Cup, Israel achieved that goal, turning heads as it went 4-1 in pool play and finished eighth overall in the tourney.
The Israelis got off on the right foot as they topped Germany 15-6 in their opener.
“It was tremendous,” recalled Ellis. “It was the first game for Israel in FIL competition and it was against a country we had a history with. We were ready to show everyone what we were about. It was amazing, it set the tempo for us.”
While Ellis was thrilled to contribute a goal and an assist in the victory over the Germans, she was more focused on the team’s success.
“In college, statistics are seen as a measure of contribution,” said Ellis, who ended up playing in five games at the competition, totaling nine points on four goals and five assists.
“It is a different vibe with a national team. You are representing something more than a university, you are representing a country. It was such a team effort, you want to win as a team.”
Israel did win in the first round of the playoffs, topping New Zealand. 12-9. The team, though, fell 17-5 to Canada in the quarterfinals, and then lost 9-7 to Scotland in a consolation game.
“The Scotland game was tough,” said Ellis, noting that Israel had topped the Scots 13-6 in pool play. “We definitely wanted to do better. I have to compliment them, they were definitely better the second time we played them.”
Due to the loss to Scotland, Israel was slated to play the Haudenosaunee Nation in the tourney’s seventh place game. That contest never took place as Israel forfeited because the game was slated for Saturday, during the Jewish sabbath.
“We were hopeful that the FIL would change the schedule,” said Ellis. “We learned on Thursday that we wouldn’t be playing on Saturday. The team that was playing us was very understanding of our issue. I believe our country did the right thing. It is such a part of the culture; it was the right thing to do for the country. Hopefully, the FIL will be more flexible in the future.”
While Ellis was disappointed that she and her teammates didn’t get the chance to play that final game, she leaves Canada with fond memories.
“It was a really cool experience,” asserted Ellis. “I still think we represented our country to the fullest. If we had been with each other longer, I think we would have done better and cleaned up some things. It was fun being around the greatest players in the world, you not only played against them but you saw them around because we stayed close to each other. It is great to be a part of a sport that is growing and game that I love so much.”
And Ellis’s love for Israel grew as a result of the experience. “I feel much more connected to Israel,” said Ellis, who hopes to keep involved with national program. “I am looking forward to going back there soon.”