Softball: Sabrina Rabin represents Israel at European Championships


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Sabrina Rabin runs the bases during her senior season at Northwestern. Rabin helped lead Israel to its best-ever finish at the European Championships earlier this summer.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Summer Managing Editor


Sabrina Rabin thought she was done. The former Northwestern leadoff hitter and center fielder, who ranked in the top five in Wildcats history in batting average, hits, stolen bases and runs scored when she graduated in 2018, had hung up her cleats and moved on to medical school at the University of Cincinnati.

But when she got the chance to play for Israel at the European Championships earlier this summer, the opportunity was too good to pass up.

“I definitely considered the fact that I’m in medical school and I really don’t have my resources like I used to,” Rabin said. “But I thought it was a really cool opportunity and I’d never been to Israel before. I had never really thought about playing internationally.”

In an attempt to become the first team sport to represent Israel at the Olympics since 1968, the Israel Softball Association turned to current and former Jewish American college softball stars, including Rabin and former NU first baseman Lily Novak, who graduated in June.

Novak ultimately chose not to follow through with the team in order to attend graduation and prepare for graduate school, but Israel still recruited players from a number of top NCAA programs, including UCLA, Arizona, North Carolina and Ole Miss.

Stacy Iveson, the director of recruiting operations at Arizona, coached Team Israel. She said Rabin was a hard worker and a big part of the team’s success. She also said that when one of Israel’s players was hit in the head during the team’s last game, Rabin — who, as a medical student, knew concussion protocol — took control of the situation.

“She was awesome. Her maturity speaks for itself,” Iveson said. “She was quite a player in college and she just carried that right through. It was nice to have somebody like that who had played at a very high level, and was not only a great softball player but a great person.”

In order to be eligible for the team, players had to become Israeli citizens — anyone with at least one Jewish parent is eligible for Israeli citizenship — and receive Israeli passports, Israel Softball Association executive director Ami Baran told The Daily. The team traveled to Israel for 10 days in June to train for the European Championships, which took place in Ostrava, Czech Republic.

Maren Angus, who served as director of operations for Team Israel, said the team identified themselves as Israeli throughout the tournament.

“When they put on an Israeli uniform, they are Israeli,” Angus said. “We don’t want the identity to be a Jewish American or an American Jew. We want people to make sure that people understand that they identify as Israeli, and that was something that they took a lot of pride in.”

Rabin helped Israel to its best-ever finish at the European Championships — the team’s 7-2 record was good for ninth out of 23 teams — but it was not quite enough to advance to the Olympic qualifier. Israel defeated Ukraine, Turkey and Austria in its first three games of pool play, but lost in walk-off fashion to Spain and was blown out by eventual champion Italy.

Had the Israelis beaten Spain, they would have moved onto the Olympic qualifier, but they still bounced back and won their last four games, which were held to determine the final standings, including a 4-2 victory over Germany in the ninth-place game.

Rabin started all nine games, finishing 6-for-21 in the tournament for a .286 batting average, tied for third-best on the team, and was successful on all four of her stolen base attempts. She played a different role than she was used to in college, however — Iveson started her in right field instead of center in every game but one, in which she played left. Rabin also batted at the bottom of the lineup most of the time, but still made the most of her opportunities.

She was able to be productive despite not having played competitively in over a year, and NU coach Kate Drohan expressed her confidence in Rabin’s abilities even after a year spent mostly away from the game.

“I would start her in a game without having practiced for a year,” Drohan said. “She’s a great competitor and a great athlete, and I think it’ll come back very quickly. She’s a ballplayer.”

A big part of the team’s mission was to grow the game in a part of the world where softball is not very popular — Angus said there are only two softball fields in all of Israel — and the team hoped to inspire young girls in Israel with its strong play.

Rabin said the few Israeli kids who do play softball love the game and were excited to see the national team do well. She also said playing on consistently competitive teams at NU helped her prepare to face international competition.

“Coming from Northwestern, we’re always tough and gritty,” Rabin said. “I knew that if I worked hard enough, I could get back into shape and be able to play out there too. We were never given anything at Northwestern, we earned everything, so that really helped with that attitude.”

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