LONGMEADOW – Soccer fervor has taken hold of the world during the 2014 FIFA World Cup, but there is another sport holding international world championships this summer in Denver, Colorado.The Federation of International Lacrosse World Championships
start July 10 and Longmeadow resident Ben Smith will be playing for team Israel
in the country’s first ever appearance.
“It’s an unbelievable event,” Smith said, who holds dual citizenship with the United States and Israel. “I’m excited to get the group together and get Israel lacrosse going at its first world championship. I just want to represent the nation the right way on and off the field.”
Smith has played lacrosse for most of his life, but it wasn’t until high school it became his primary sports focus.
“Hockey was always my primary sport and I thought lacrosse was a great complement. I liked having a stick in my hand,” Smith said. “My town always had a great lacrosse tradition [and] a great youth lacrosse program. It didn’t become my primary sport until midway through high school.”
Smith currently serves as the defensive coordinator for the Harvard University men’s lacrosse team.
“After finishing [my master's] at John Hopkins in 2012, I coached a lot of club and high school lacrosse in Maryland and got a job in Boston [and the Harvard coach] asked if I was interested in working with the defense. I’m going into my third year now as defensive coordinator,” he said.
It was during his time at Harvard that he was contacted about Israel’s lacrosse program.
“They started recruiting Israelis and Jewish Americans two to three years ago for the event. I got an email from Director Scott Neiss seeing if anyone with significant college and pro experience was interested. I was fortunate enough to have my birthright trip and was able to piggyback it with lacrosse tryouts.
“Birthright flies thousands of Jewish people to Israel because it’s their birthright to see it. It’s a 10 day trip and you see most areas of the country I extended my trip four days to [participate in] the tryouts in Tel Aviv,” Smith explained.
He had to acquire citizenship in order to be eligible for the team.
“[Becoming a citizen] is not easy. The process is pretty thorough. [It’s not that bad] if you’re genuine and tell them why you want to be a part of the country,” Smith said.
His coach, Bill Beroza, is excited to have Smith on Israel’s roster.
“[Ben’s] one of the better players on the team. He’s a very accomplished All-American from Harvard and [he’ll help] lead our defense in Denver,” Beroza said. “Eighty-five kids showed up in Israel in the summer of 2013. From that we’ve had several other processes in the states for players who couldn’t make it to Israel. We selected 46 for Team Israel, but on game day only 23 can be on the Israel roster.”
The team is meeting in Vale, Colorado, on July 3, which will be the first time they will be able to train together.
“[Everyone] is training on their own,” Beroza said. “The level of training is significant with many of the team members, but its not organized. We competed in 2012 at the European championships [and] finished eight out of 17 teams. We’ve competed at other levels, but [nothing like] the World Championship.”
The team will have to come together quickly to compete with some of the favorites, and Beroza hopes his team will be competitive with the top teams in the world, which include the United States, Australia, Japan, England, Iroquois and Canada.
The tournament started in 1967 and featured four teams. Seven years later, the idea of having the tournament take place every four years was conceived.
Currently the tournament is broken up into nine divisions. The top six teams, listed above, are in one group and four of them will advance to the quarterfinals, with the top two getting a bye to the semifinals.
The other eight divisions, not grouped by ranking, are comprised of four teams and the top team of each group will have the opportunity of getting to the quarterfinals. The action starts July 10 and runs through July 19.
Smith is looking forward to the competition and is excited to be a part of a growing lacrosse program in Israel.
“[My goal is to] promote the growth of lacrosse in Israel and across the Mediterranean,” Smith said. “Building it up is a big focus and building pride in the country itself, supporting and contributing to the nation.”