Last Sunday, October 22, the women’s Tennis team defeated Mount St. Mary 5-1 to claim the Skyline Conference Championship, the team’s first conference championship since 1999. After being ousted in the Semi-Finals for the past three years, the Maccabees (10-1) made history by being the first women’s team in Yeshiva University history to qualify for the NCAA Division III tournament.
“This year’s team had that motivated edge. It seemed they each felt ownership of the team, thereby leading to success” said Coach Naomi Kaszovitz. After coaching this team for nine years, Kaszovitz said all her years of commitment were “worth it” for this moment. The student-athletes put in countless hours, practicing Sunday through Thursday to be able to compete as this high level.
Additionally, this year’s team features the Skyline Conference Player of the Year, Shani Hava and Skyline All-Conference first team member Rebecca Packer. Hava was also named to the Skyline All-Conference First Team.
“These young women are the epitome of determination and tenacity and I am humbled to have been along for the ride,” said Joe Bednarsh, Yeshiva University’s Athletic Director.
Bednarsh could not emphasize enough how much this championship means for the University and Jewish women’s ability to play sports. Since being named head athletics director in 2005, Bednarsh has focused much of his efforts on improving the women’s athletic program.
When he was promoted to head athletics director, there were only three women’s sports teams at YU: tennis, basketball and fencing, none of which were NCAA level teams. With the help of administrators, Bednarsh raised women’s athletics to NCAA status and promoted four more teams to varsity status: soccer and cross-country in ’07, volleyball in ’08 and softball in ’13.
Now Bednarsh can finally say that his program produced a Championship. But it is more than that; as he put it so eloquently, this championship proves that “Jewish women can not only compete, but excel on the court”. This program has raised “role models” for young Jewish women who are looking for the opportunity to play sports at the college level “without having to compromise their observance”.
“During a recent game” Adele Lerner, a senior on the tennis team, recalled “a referee, [who was] wondering if he should call off a game due to light, [so he] asked out loud to himself ‘what time does the sun set today’?” Hearing this I quickly replied, “sunset was at 6:08 on Friday.” Adele only knew this random tidbit about the solar cycle because she was familiar with shabbat candle lighting times. “The referee replied jokingly ‘you guys would know that’.”
This anecdote symbolizes how far athletics for Jewish women have come.”they know we’re different, and it would be easy to assume that our differences would be a hinderance; but [this championship] proved that our differences demonstrate our character and make us stronger competitors.”
The finals for the NCAA tournament are this May, the first night of the Jewish holiday of Shavuot. If the team were to make it there, they have no doubt that for league would continue to accommodate for them. That guarantee is something that they have earned through their excellent play and devotion to competing at the highest level available.