Oak Park and River Forest High School junior Julia Weiss recently had the opportunity to represent the United States and share her passion for soccer with players from all over the world.
The Huskies' center/midfielder won a gold medal with the USA Junior National team (comprised of Jewish players) at the Maccabiah Games on July 27th in Israel, defeating Israel 1-0 for the title. The Americans topped Sweden, Australia, South Africa, Brazil and Canada en route to the championship game. The dominant USA squad outscored its opponents 24-0 over a stellar six-game run at the third-largest international sporting event in the world.
Junior players from all over the world representing dozens of sports lived together on a kibbutz during the games. Over 8,500 participants from 70 countries competed in the Maccabiah Games.
Weiss traveled to California to try out for a coveted spot on the United States roster. Although the 20 girls who made the team hadn't played with each other previously, they quickly adapted to each other's playing styles and jelled nicely throughout the tournament.
"We hadn't met each other before we got to Israel, but we got there and trained for four days straight," Weiss said. "Just living together, we got to be really close. By the end of the tournament, we knew exactly how everybody plays."
Soccer runs in the Weiss family, as Julia's father played at Northwestern. He bought a soccer net for his kids to play with in the backyard. By the age of five, Julia was outside every day kicking the ball into the net.
"Soccer is a connection that you can have with people all over the world," she said. "There were 70 different countries [at the Maccabiah Games]. As soon as I would tell people that I play soccer, their faces would light up and they would ask me questions. It was so cool to connect with people in that way."
Weiss enjoys reading and hanging out with her family and dog, and she aspires to study engineering in college. Having played for Ball State University assistant coach Marcie Klebanow at the Maccabiah Games, Weiss is confident she can handle the college soccer experience while still focusing on her education.
"It helps immensely," she said about playing for a college coach. "[Klebanow] treated us like her college team, and now I have that experience knowing it's something I can do. She'll definitely be a great reference for me to get recruited."
OPRF head coach Ignacio Ponce was thrilled that Weiss played in the Maccabiah Games. He believes the invaluable experience will help Weiss transition her game to the varsity level this coming season.
"I thought it was wonderful for her to be able to represent her country back where her family roots are," Ponce said. "To get that international exposure really upped her game and challenged her to be a better individual and soccer player."
Weiss also knows how special it is to represent her country and meet people from around the world who share not only her faith, but her passion for soccer.
"It was so cool," she said. "I was representing the same thing as everybody there. I knew I had so much in common with the girls that I played against even though they were from Brazil or Sweden. It was just amazing."