Sasha Brafman is going from Santa Maria to Israel this weekend and she'll be there for several weeks.

Brafman, a standout soccer player for Pioneer Valley High School, is representing Brazil in the junior girls soccer competition at the Maccabiah Games, which are held every four years in Israel and are known as the 'Jewish Olympics.'

The Maccabiah Games is the third-largest sporting event in the world behind the Olympics and the Pan-American Games. In 2013, there were 9,000 athletes from 78 countries at the games.

It's been quite a journey for the young Brafman, who just wrapped up her sophomore year with the Panthers. After she was named to the PAC 8 All-League team in the winter, she tried out for the United States team and was chosen as an alternate for the games.

Shortly after that, Brafman, who holds dual citizenship between the United States and Brazil, was contacted by the Brazilian team and offered a spot on that squad. Brafman decided to accept that spot.

Brafman, 16, has visited Brazil, her father Alan's native country, many times, but when the family leaves from San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport on Saturday, it'll be her first trip to Israel.

Brafman summed up her emotions as excited with a dash of nervousness heading to the 20th edition of the Maccabiah Games.

"I don't know anybody that I'm going to stay with or play with," she said. "But I'm really excited for the opportunity to play against all these people from around the world and to play with them, too."

Brafman, who currently plays for Madrid Premier during the club soccer season, has been playing the sport since the age of 3. Her father Alan Brafman is the boys soccer coach at Pioneer Valley and played in the Maccabiah Games for Brazil in 1989. 

"I've always been playing soccer, training for something just like this," she said. 

Sasha's father and mother Belina Brafman, along with her younger brother and sister and Belina's parents, are all making the trip to Israel to see Sasha play.

"It's a really good feeling to know that my whole family supports me," she said. "They're all a part of it. They all help me get better and they help me grow at playing soccer."

Brafman is a versatile player on the pitch. She is a center-midfielder who prefers to drop back and play defense.

"My best ability is probably winning the ball in the middle and then distributing it out to the forwards or other midfielders," she said.

Alan Brafman said his daughter has been influenced by his coaching style and his wife Belina's.

"My wife is a good player, a very good player," Alan said. "I coached her, my wife coached her and then she moved on to the club team, Madrid. She always amazes us. She's always surprising us, doing something I didn't think she was going to do. But she's been like this since she was little.

"She can score goals. Now she's pretty awesome at winning the ball and distributing the ball. And she's very strong. She's on the ball the whole time. She's pretty good."

Alan says Sasha has some of the same traits as Belina, but is her own type of player.

"She has her own style," Alan said. "She has all the discipline her mom has. But she does her own thing on the field. She's tough. You might look at her and not think she's tough, but she is. Nobody can pass by her."

When Alan sees Sasha in the Brazilian shirt, he's overcome with pride.

"This is probably one of the proudest moments," Alan said. "I'm so excited to watch her. I can't even describe the feeling. I'm going to see her play in the Maccabi Haifa Stadium and just to see her in the Brazilian jersey. It's a feeling that you can't describe."

Sasha Brafman will spend a few days getting acclimated to Israel and training with teammates before the first competition of the games. Brazil takes on Australia July 7 in Haifa, Israel.

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Sports Editor

Alumni Fresno State