5,270 miles from Rochester: Estadio San Carlos in Santiago, Chile hosted the 2015 Pan-American Maccabi games over our winter break. Sponsored by Maccabi USA, the games look to promote Jewish pride through sports. UR volleyball’s Shira Katz ‘18 not only represented the ‘Jackets abroad in these games, but the United States as well.
Shira and her Team USA volleyball teammates from all over the country convened in New York City for two days of training before departing for Santiago. They were greeted by thousands of fans, bright lights, and loud music during the opening ceremony. Shira was hoisted upon the shoulders of American rugby players during the ceremony. It was “awesome, one of my favorite memories,” Katz said.
There were athletes from all corners of South America, namely Chile, Peru, Brazil, and Argentina. Athletes and spectators alike traded pins, t-shirts, hats, and even their athletic gear. According to Katz, “Everyone thought the USA stuff was the coolest.” After a match, a Peruvian woman confronted her with enthusiasm and said, “I need that jersey,” referring to Katz’s sweat-soaked game-worn uniform. “Are you sure you want this?” Katz replied. “Yes!”
The sophomore noted that it was interesting and foreign to play under international rules that differed from U.S. regulations. Because of these altered styles of play, it was “imperative to be an all-around player,” she said.
Despite these changes, Katz and her teammates had no shortage of success, cruising through round-robin, group-style play. She was proud to say that she “hit two players in the face,” spiking the ball over the course of her four competitions.
The USA squad faced Brazil in the championship round. After falling behind two-games-to-none in a best-of-five match, they battled back to tie the match at two games apiece, before ultimately coming up a little short in the deciding game. Katz is proud to show her silver medal, a medal that she and all of her teammates were awarded in an Olympic-esque ceremony following the championship match.
In any event, Katz took much more from this competition than just a few victories and a piece of silver. She referred to her teammates as “life long friends” and “amazing people.” Over the course of their week-and-a-half long trip, Katz and her teammates seemed to have a built special bond, a unique camaraderie that created relationships she would never forget.
She spoke about her days off in which they volunteered at a hospital entertaining children who awaited their treatments. “It was really special because this was one of the poorest places in Chile,” Katz said.
“Perhaps it was these experiences that brought the group so tightly together in only a short period of less than two weeks,” Katz said. “We all got along so well […] we all loved each other.”
“There were moments of brilliance […] the two sets we won, everything was clicking […] It was amazing, we hadn’t played five-set matches before,” Katz said, referring to her team’s performance in the championship match against Brazil.
Katz’s experience reminds us of the power sports have to bring people together from all over the world. Sports—in this case, volleyball—can be a great bonding agent. Perhaps Katz’s experience competing abroad should remind us of the value of this year’s summer Olympic Games in Rio. In a world fraught with turmoil, it may be within the power of sports to help unite, as it united Shira, her teammates, and her friends abroad.