An Israeli has never played on a reigning NCAA Championship team, until now.
Meet Chen Abramovich, a defensive specialist for the Huskers with a strong volleyball background and a story that starts thousands of miles away from Lincoln.
Even during her childhood in Kfar Saba, Israel, volleyball has been instrumental in Abramovich’s life. Her older sister, father and mother also played.
“I can say that volleyball is in our blood,” Abramovich said. “They always came to watch me play, and we used to watch games together and talk about it, so they have a great influence on me.”
Abramovich’s father played volleyball when he was younger and volunteered for the club team Abramovich played for as she got older. His constant push in her life has been a leading factor in her career, but Abramovich said it’s her mother who has influenced her the most.
According to Abramovich, her mother is “kind of a hero in Israel.” She started MAMANET, a cachiball league for mothers in Israel. The game is similar to volleyball, but with different contact rules. In cachiball a player is allowed to catch the ball, whereas in volleyball you can’t. Abramovich said that cachiball’s popularity has grown in Israel, and is now the most popular women’s sport in the country.
Despite her mother’s success, Abramovich does not feel any extra pressure in her own career. Instead, she said it’s quite the opposite.
“I actually continue her way,” Abramovich said. “She always told me that the best way to learn life skills is through sports, and I play volleyball because I love it and I know how amazing it is. I don’t know yet if that’s what I want to do with my life, but having the opportunity to do what she’s doing would be great.”
In fact, it was her mother who convinced Abramovich to come to the United States and play.
“My mother studied in Queens College in New York, and she describes this time as the best period of time she had in her entire life, so she always encouraged me to do so,” she said.
Abramovich spent most of her childhood practicing with her father and sister while watching her mother play in MAMANET. It wasn’t long before she started experiencing success of her own.
Abramovich’s rise to national prominence began at Galili High School. Galili won Israel’s high school national championship every single season she played. In 2014 and 2016 she helped lead the team to the International School Federation World Schools Championship.
Her country took notice, and she was selected to Israel’s national team at the Junior European Championships in 2016. It was an opportunity she cherished, and believes she will do it again when she returns to Israel.
Her time with the national team was not easy. She was 18 during the tournament, meaning she was required to serve a mandatory term of two years in the Israeli Army. Young women and men are required to serve two or three years, respectively, after they graduate high school.
“Athletes who were a part of the national team get a special permission from the army to continue their normal practice routine,” Abramovich said. “So all the athletes in the army have an office job that doesn’t require for them to spend a lot of time at the army base.”
Despite being an athlete, she still had to serve her first month of basic training like everyone else.
“During this month, we received no breaks, and the discipline was at its highest level,” Abramovich said. “We were issued a weapon after the integration days, and we had to carry it and sleep with it until the end of the basic training course.”
After a month of training, she was sworn into the Israel Defense Force and spent the next 23 months at her office job.
Abramovich said her month in basic training was a time for personal growth — including team building, leadership and cooperation. “If you lose, you don't lose alone, and you can only win together,” she said. “If you weren't a part of the team you couldn't make it through. You need to be a good teammate, a leader, otherwise you'll stay alone …The only way to ‘survive’ was to be together.”
In addition to her triumphs at the international level, Abramovich had great success with her club team.
In 2015 she joined the club team Hapoel Kfar Saba, a 90-year-old volleyball club located in Kfar Saba, Israel. They compete in the Israel Premier League as well as the CEV Champions League and CEV Cup.
In just three years, Abramovich achieved both national and continental success with the club. Locally, she helped lead her team to the Israel National Championship in 2017. Internationally, Hapoel Kfar Saba advanced all the way to the second round of the CEV Champions League, the premier European volleyball league, and finished 16th in the CEV Volleyball Cup.
In March, Abramovich, now 20, visited Lincoln and realized what the next step in her young career was.
“I didn’t know much about Nebraska, and I’ve never been here before, but I always knew that the volleyball here is a big thing,” Abramovich said. “I just fell in love with this place. I love everything about Nebraska.”
In some ways, being in Nebraska is Abramovich’s dream come true.
“Playing college volleyball was my dream since I was young,” she said. “I remember watching the NCAA tournaments the last few years, and I always dream to play the highest level of volleyball.”
Since arriving on campus this summer, Abramovich has undergone a lot of change, specifically in the way she trains.
“The system in Israel is different from here,” she said. “I used to play with older and experienced players. Usually we had one head coach and one assistant coach, and we mostly practiced six on six. Here, we have many graduate assistants and coaches for each position on the court.”
Even the style of play is somewhat new to Abramovich, but she is working hard to overcome those changes.
For example, in NCAA volleyball, the Libero can serve, which Israeli volleyball doesn’t allow.
“There are many changes in the technique, standing on the court, passing, serving, responsibility areas,” Abramovich said. “It’s always challenging to learn new things. I’m trying to adapt as fast as possible because the season starts soon, so we’re going every day to the court to get reps and we’re watching videos with our coaches.”
Culturally, there are some changes as well.
“I would say almost everything is different from Israel — the food, the weather, the people and the language,” Abramovich said.
While the adjustment has been tough, she already feels the hospitality and love Nebraska is known for.
“I love it when you walk in the streets and everyone is smiling at you,” she said. “That never happened to me at home, so at the beginning I didn’t know how to react.”
Now, with the school year beginning and the first games of the season just around the corner, Abramovich has finally reached her goal of playing college volleyball.
As far as what she’s looking forward to this season, Abramovich has high hopes for herself and the No. 2-ranked Cornhuskers.
“I’m going to bring the best out of me to the game and so are all of my teammates,” she said. “We want to win the national championship again, and I’m sure we can do it. We have a great team and the best coaches, so this is going to be an interesting season.”
This article was originally published in the September 2018 edition of The DN.