Israeli national softball team. (Israel Softball Association/Facebook) Israel Softball Association/Facebook

With hopes of reaching the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, the Israeli women’s national softball team competed in its first preliminary match.

By United With Israel Staff

On Sunday, Israel’s women’s national softball team competed at the European Championship in the Czech Republic. The top six squads will then compete in the WBSC Europe/Africa Softball Qualifying Event, next month in the Netherlands, for a place at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Israeli team will need to finish in the top two spots of Pool B to move to the next level of competition, reported The Jerusalem Post. The team will be competing against Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Austria and Turkey.

Thirteen of the 15 team members are from the United States, where softball is much more popular than in Israel.

These players are recent college graduates who arrived in Israel at the beginning of this month to train. The other two members come from the Israeli junior softball league.

Two of the 13 American team members have Israeli parents, and therefore are Israeli citizens. The other 11 have at least one Jewish parent, and were able to officially make “aliya” (immigrate to Israel) by requesting Israeli citizenship. In order to play in the women’s Olympic softball league, players must have citizenship from the country they represent.

Israeli Softball Association President Ami Baran, who serves as Secretary General of the European Softball Federation, told JTA that several other teams also packed their rosters with American players who now have dual citizenship.

Though the first women’s baseball game with paying fans was in 1875, women’s softball didn’t enter the Olympics until 2008, in Beijing. The Tokyo Olympics will be the first time since then that women are participating in an Olympic softball competition. That is why Israel has sought to create a “dream team,” Baran told JTA.

Softball in Israel

Team member Tamara Statman, from Arizona, told JTA that she hopes to help develop softball in Israel. Part of that process has included traveling around the country and practicing softball with various girls teams in the north and center of the country.

“You don’t have to speak the same language to play the same sport,” Statman explained to JTA, adding that she thinks the team’s chances of success at the Olympics are “really good.”

Zoe Shaw, who led the UCLA Bruins to the NCAA Women’s Softball World Series, is also on the Israeli team. She told the Jerusalem Post, “I’m familiar with many of my new [Israeli] teammates because we had played each other in college and many were from the same NCAA Conference as I was. Those who were once foes on the diamond are now some of my closest friends.”

Following her arrival in Israel, Shaw told the Post it was her first time in the country. “This trip has far exceeded my expectations. I am so used to being in a bubble, [and] coming here with the chance to meet new people and experience a new culture has been great,” she said.