April 5, 2011
Israeli powers Toledo to landmark women’s hoop title
Naama Shafir, a Sabbath-observing Israeli, scored a career-high 40 points to power the University of Toledo women’s basketball team to the school’s first national postseason championship in any sport.
Shafir hit 13 of 27 shots as the host Rockets defeated the University of Southern California, 76-68, on April 2 for the Women’s NIT title. The victory also marked the first national championship for a Mid-American Conference team in any sport. Shafir, a 5-7 junior guard from the small northern Israeli town of Hoshaya, also sank 13 of 18 free throws in the game.
Following the victory on Saturday afternoon, Shafir walked home and held off interviews until long after the conclusion of Shabbat.
Shafir is believed to be the first female Orthodox Jew to be awarded a Division I athletic scholarship. She led the Rockets this season with averages of 15.3 points and 5 assists per game. She had been courted by Boston University and Seton Hall before enrolling at Toledo.
Getting the OK to play in the United States was no easy layup: Shafir obtained permission from an Orthodox rabbi in Israel to play games that coincided with the Jewish Sabbath, but not to practice, according to The Associated Press. Other special measures have been enacted to accommodate Shafir’s Sabbath observance: For road games, she checks into a hotel within walking distance of the host arena with a coaching staff assistant, bringing with her frozen kosher meals from Detroit.
“Every time we need her, when the game’s on the line or it’s a crucial moment in a game, she’s not one of those people who hides behind everyone else,” said Toledo coach Tricia Cullop in a post-game interview. “She steps to the forefront, begs for the ball and carries us. She’s as good as they come.”