5 Questions: Kansas soccer's Shira Elinav reflects on competing for Israel’s national team, more
LAWRENCE — As Kansas soccer wrapped up its non-conference schedule earlier this fall, one of its athletes was away from the program competing for the Israeli national team.
Shira Elinav, a sophomore this season for Kansas, joined Israel for its World Cup qualifier match in September against Portugal. It brought the total number of matches she’s played for Israel to seven in non-friendly competitions. And it continues a run of her competing at the international level that dates back to her playing for the youth national team when she was younger.
“Playing for the national team, it’s always a dream of mine and I always feel so proud to wear the national team jersey,” Elinav told The Topeka Capital-Journal on Saturday. “So, it was a great opportunity for me to play international soccer and also help and represent my national team — which is always just an amazing feeling and opportunity.”
Elinav spoke Saturday a couple days after Kansas (7-8-1, 2-4 in Big 12 Conference) topped No. 23-ranked Baylor 2-1, and a day before the Jayhawks would upset No. 9-ranked West Virginia 2-1 in overtime. Through 14 appearances — considering she missed two matches to compete for Israel — she has three goals. And with The Topeka Capital-Journal, she reflected on her journey with the sport and more.
Question: How did this sport come into your life, and did you always think it would play such a large part in it?
Answer: “So, women’s soccer is not very popular in Israel, but when I was growing up in elementary school I started just playing for-fun soccer with the boys in my neighborhood and in my school. And then, when I was 9, my parents moved to Connecticut and that’s where I was actually introduced to women’s soccer and started playing there for the three years that I was there. And that’s where it became more serious and a bigger part of my life. And when I moved back to Israel, then I just went forward with it and continued playing. And I think ever since I started playing soccer, even with the boys in my neighborhood, I realized that it’s something that I really loved to do and enjoyed doing. And, like, I’ve always had this dream to be a soccer player and a pro soccer player. So, I would say that it came on from an early age.”
Elinav said the move to Connecticut came in 2009, and that the move back to Israel followed in 2012.
Q: Was that initial move to Connecticut, maybe, what got you interested in potentially playing college soccer in the United States? Was it something else? Why did you feel, after you eventually moved back to Israel, that coming back to the (United) States was the right move for you?
A: “I think that, when I was 12, it was a bit too young to think about college. But, when I started continuing, like, playing soccer over the years in Israel, I realized that I actually want to grow stronger with it and become the best that I can be.”
Elinav added that the scene in Israel wasn’t competitive enough, before going on to say, “So, I decided to go back to the U.S. and play college soccer because it is such a high level and it would also enable me to get a degree at the same time … the things that I love most.”
Q: Are there any significant differences between playing college soccer for Kansas and those times you’ve played for the national team in Israel? Are there any significant differences between the styles of those two games? Or, are they pretty similar?
A: “I feel like college soccer is much more fast-paced and physical. And international soccer, although when you play international it is actually a higher level than, like, the regular soccer in Israel … I think the major difference is actually the rules. Where, like, you can sub in and out in college soccer and the clock stops. Where, in international soccer, it doesn’t happen. You play for 45 minutes and then 45 minutes and the clock doesn’t stop."
Q: Do you have any mentors or people you look up to in the sport, or maybe even outside of it? Are there any people you look up to and just try to, maybe, play like or just carry yourself like when it comes to it?
A: “I would say that I look up to, the most, (Cristiano) Ronaldo because he’s such a hard worker and such an amazing finisher. He’s just like a monster in the box, so I always strive and want to play like him. I also like (Kylian) Mbappé because he has such a hard-work rate, but he’s also so fast and so creative.”
Q: Looking past your career in the sport, what would do want to get involved in? What do you like doing, and when your playing career is over what do you want to be doing?
A: Elinav began by saying that she would definitely want to remain involved in sports, whether that’s through coaching or helping younger girls develop into better athletes. And then she added another option would be becoming a veterinarian or something like that, explaining, “I just really love animals and helping them always sounds, like, amazing to me.”
*This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Jordan Guskey covers University of Kansas Athletics at The Topeka Capital-Journal. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter at @JordanGuskey.