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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Former Israeli soldier fights for UA tennis

    Sophomore tennis player Danielle Steinberg follows though on a serve in Arizonas 4-1 loss to then-No.1 Stanford April 14 at the Robson Tennis Center. Steinberg alternated between the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on Arizonas roster last year after coming in as a 21-year-old freshman fresh off a two-year stint in the Israeli Army.
    Sophomore tennis player Danielle Steinberg follows though on a serve in Arizona’s 4-1 loss to then-No.1 Stanford April 14 at the Robson Tennis Center. Steinberg alternated between the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on Arizona’s roster last year after coming in as a 21-year-old freshman fresh off a two-year stint in the Israeli Army.

    Danielle Steinberg could be in a war-torn region. Instead, she finds herself on a tennis court, 7,483 miles away from conflict.

    Had the Arizona women’s tennis player still been in the Israeli Army this summer – where she had finished serving just two years ago – during the war with Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, her work would have been entirely different.

    “”It was pretty hectic when I was there,”” Steinberg said about her trip to Israel over the summer. “”I wasn’t in danger or anything, but the thing about Israel is that it’s never calm. Things are never OK in Israel, but it was more stressful than usual.””

    Although all women serve two years in the army, the extent of soldiers’ work during their time in the army varies. After they are discharged from the Israeli Army, the majority of ex-soldiers simply find jobs and start anew.

    When Steinberg turned 18, like all the other Israelis, she started her service, but now her serving is on the tennis court.

    After her two years were up, Steinberg wanted a college tennis career. She picked Arizona solely based on what she had read about the school and athletic program on the Internet and what coaches told her in letters and over the phone.

    “”We received a letter of interest from Dani and went from there,”” UA head coach Vicky Maes said. “”It was clear to us that she was an accomplished individual and that she had much to offer our program. We reviewed tape, results and spoke to her.””

    Said Steinberg: “”It was kind of a gamble for me. I didn’t know much about the American college system or college sports. I basically just followed my instinct. I really liked the people and the athletic department here. I had never visited, so I hadn’t seen where I was going to, but I knew Arizona had a good athletic department, and I went with my instinct, and I’m not disappointed. I think it was an excellent choice.””

    When Steinberg entered Arizona, she was a 21-year-old freshman, something that is common in Israel but not in the U.S.

    “”It’s funny,”” said Steinberg, now a sophomore. “”In Israel my friends are just now starting to think about going to college. When I graduate I’ll be 24 or 25, which is old in American terms because here you start at 18, but back home, this is usually around the age that you start college. It was kind of funny for me to be a 21-year-old freshman. I was definitely the oldest freshman there was.””

    Not a tennis country

    Steinberg, who is ranked No. 29 in the country at the collegiate level, comes from a country where there isn’t a great deal of importance placed on athletics beyond basketball and soccer, said Racheli Marom, the Israeli Fellow at the Hillel Center.

    “”We have some really good tennis players that train internationally,”” she said. “”People would watch it on international television, and it’s part of the sporting culture in Israel, but it’s not a huge sport there.””

    Steinberg said the tradition of college sports in America differs greatly from the athletic landscape in Israel.

    “”We don’t have that, so the first week I was here, when I saw the facility and the amount of people involved, I was shocked,”” she said. “”As an athlete, I’ve never been treated with such respect because it’s not really a big priority in Israel, especially tennis.””

    Steinberg became interested in tennis when trainers from a tennis center came to her school in Israel and offered free lessons when she was 8. She played recreationally for about two years, but then she got serious.

    In 2002 she won the Israeli doubles championship, and in 2004, she was a runner-up at the Israeli Championship.

    “”Danielle is feisty and very competitive,”” Maes said. “”She hates losing and will fight for every point. She is a natural leader. She demands respect from her peers by leading not only by example but also vocally. She was very influential in our success last year.””

    Steinberg was not only the top freshman on the team last year; she also floated between the No. 1 and No. 2 spots on the entire team.

    She compiled a 14-6 singles record on top of a 10-7 doubles season with partner Camelia Todorova, now a junior.

    “”She’s definitely a key player on our team,”” Todorova said. “”She’s always motivated. She basically motivates the team. She’s team captain, so everyone has a huge amount of respect for her. When it comes to match point, she’s one of those players that never gives up.””

    Living through war

    Steinberg is from Tel Aviv, Israel, which is located in central Israel, and she went back during the summer when Israel was at war with Hezbollah, a conflict that was fought mostly in the northern part of the country.

    Steinberg said Tel Aviv stayed relatively peaceful during the time because all of the bombs were going off in the northern part, mainly Haifa, Israel. But she had several family members who were forced to move from that area because it was not safe.

    When Steinberg served in the army, she was in the communications division. She practiced tennis and played in tournaments and was never really an active part of any war-related activities, with the majority of her load spent on office work.

    “”You get the special commissions only if nothing is going on,”” Steinberg said. “”If I had been there this summer, my special commissions would have been canceled. I wouldn’t have to go fight because I’m not trained for that, but I would probably have had to sleep at the base and work more intensively.””

    Although Steinberg realizes that pretty much everything in the Israeli Army is in one way or another tied to training or fighting a war, she said she is thankful about the timing of her service because her life would be completely different had she been a few years younger.

    “”Everything I did before was ultimately all war-related, but it was all backstage work,”” Steinberg said. “”It would definitely be more intense if I was in the army right now, which I’m happy I’m not.””

    Adapting to the U.S.

    Steinberg said that she has adapted to Arizona nicely. She said the American culture is very different from Middle Eastern culture, but as a whole, it’s not too far off.

    “”We are kind of Americanized back home in Israel,”” Steinberg said. “”The language wasn’t such a big barrier for me, but it’s not only me. My whole team is foreigners, basically.””

    Five of the eight players on the team are indeed from five countries, including Sweden, Slovenia, Poland and Canada.

    As far as comparing Israeli youth to the American youth, however, Steinberg said she sees one glaring difference.

    “”I feel an 18-year-old Israeli is much more mature than an 18-year-old American, but it’s just because of the circumstances that an 18-year-old has to go to the army. It just makes you mature faster. I don’t know if it’s good or bad, but that’s the major difference I see.””

    Maes also said she thinks that Steinberg’s maturity has helped her on the tennis court.

    “”I think her army experience has helped her feel more comfortable in a leadership role,”” Maes said. “”She was not afraid to take charge, even as a freshman. She saw what needed to be said or done and did it, unafraid of how people would react.

    “”I believe her background has helped her mature much faster than some other kids would,”” Maes said. “”This has allowed her to adjust quicker and produce immediately. She beat a lot of top-10 players last year, and that speaks for itself.””

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