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Israeli Star Boosts Jewish Community’s Interest in RU Women’s Basketball Team

With one move the Rutgers University Women’s basketball team, the Scarlet Knights, brought on impressive new talent, added a new international flavor to the team and generated great enthusiasm from Jewish fans across the state. They did all this when they recruited Noga Peleg Pelc, a well-regarded player from Even Yehuda, Israel, who is now a team member of the Scarlet Knights and a first-year student at Rutgers.

Peleg Pelc’s journey to intense United States Big 10 college women’s basketball competition started from unlikely origins, as none of her immediate family was very involved in sports. Her father, Oskar, is a physicist who works for Intel; her mother, Anat, is a clinical psychologist in private practice; and her two older brothers, Guy and Ayal, are now professional classical musicians who perform internationally. While she and her twin brother, Alon, both played basketball in their pre-teens, he gave it up after a few years to pursue other things.

Noga (Hebrew for “Venus,” as in the planet), on the other hand, found that she loved basketball and was talented at it. She first started playing when she was 7 years old and kept at it. Initially, she played for a local team in Even Yehuda, and by age 13 she was invited to play unofficially on the national Israeli teams. When she was 16, she secured a place in the Israeli National Academy for sports, Wingate, located near Netanya. She was also invited to play in summer international tournaments of the prestigious national Israeli U16 basketball team for 15- and 16-year-olds. Her summer performance impressed the team coaches and in subsequent summers she played on the U18 and U20 teams.

Peleg Pelc graduated from Wingate in 2016 and enlisted in the Israeli Army, serving for two years in the telecommunications unit. In the first year of her army service, she was recruited to play on the Israeli national professional women’s basketball team, Bnot Herzliya. While playing on the team, she met two players whose basketball careers got big boosts at Rutgers—Essence Carson and Matee Ajavon. And the idea for the next stage of her career slowly took shape.

Peleg Pelc knew that basketball isn’t a lifelong career; she estimates that most players retire in their mid 30s. She wanted to take her basketball career as far as she can take it but also get a college degree, perhaps in communications or psychology, to help her find meaningful work after basketball. Joining the Rutgers team seemed like a smart move, on both scores.

Her developing interest in joining the Scarlet Knights was reciprocated and their nationally celebrated coach, Vivian Stringer, offered her a place on team, which Peleg Pelc gladly accepted in Fall 2018. In the announcement that she was joining the team, Coach Stringer offered high praise for Peleg Pelc: “Noga is one of the most intelligent players I have met. I was amazed and fascinated by her ability to see and understand what should be happening two and three passes ahead of time. I’m really impressed with her skill set. She is a hard nosed, hard worker, and has nothing but desire to be the best she can be.”

Being a member of the Scarlet Knights is something Peleg Pelc sees as “a wonderful opportunity and privilege.” But it’s also hard work; she reports that she has four-hour practices, six days a week, which start at 5:30 a.m. And the team plays 30 games per season, including nonconference play in the fall, and Big 10 conference games late December through early March. The games take place an average of twice a week during the season and are held weekday nights or weekend afternoons.

Peleg Pelc has already attracted media attention for her performance on the court. The Daily Targum, the Rutgers-New Brunswick student newspaper, reported on November 12 that “Pelc has quickly shown that she earned her spot as a Knight by commanding the court and not being afraid to take a three-pointer given the opportunity.” The Baltimore Sun on December 31 identified Peleg Pelc as one of the leading players in a game that day between the Scarlet Knights and the University of Maryland’s Terps, in which the Terps suffered their first loss of the season.

Asked about her success on the court, Peleg Pelc was modest and said that she is “focused on serving the team, shooting the ball, passing it or playing defense as needed” to help the Knights win.

Scarlet Knights fans in the Jewish communities in New Jersey aren’t so shy about the energy Peleg Pelc has brought to the team and their own enthusiasm for her efforts.

Iris and Jeff Green, residents of Franklin Township and members of Temple Beth El in Somerset, have been season ticket holders of the Scarlet Knights women’s basketball team since 2009. They said: “Our pride in the team, and our pride in Israel, has definitely gone up” with Peleg Pelc on the team. “She’s a really talented player, who’s great to watch. She’s a good long-shot player and a wonderful passer. And she’s very much a team player, supportive of all the players.”

Avi Ifrah, a resident of Highland Park and a member of Congregation Ohav Emeth, attends all Scarlet Knights home games with his 20 year-old daughter, Ariana. Ifrah said that Peleg Pelc “is one of the best three-point shooters on the team. She’s really good!” He reports seeing her score 20 points in one game and said that “she’s also excellent on defense.” Ifrah added, “When you see someone who comes from Israel and plays as well as she does, it gives you a chill. I’m so proud of her.”

Peleg Pelc is very grateful for all the fans’ support, saying that: “It’s really nice to have such warm support from everyone, especially the large Jewish communities in the area.” She is complimented that fans greet her, take photos with her, and shout out Hebrew words at the games, and send her messages on Instagram. “I feel like I’m making the Jewish communities proud and that means a lot to me.”

Demonstrating her hakarat hatov, Peleg Pelc points out the importance of role models and mentors in inspiring and advancing her career. In an interview for this story, she identified three players who had a major influence on her. Shay Doron, an Israeli national team captain who played for the University of Maryland, is a player she admires and has learned much from. Liad Suez Karni, an Israeli national team captain who played in the Euro League and Euro Cup, was also her coach in Even Yehuda and her senior teammate in Bnot Herzliya. And Matee Ajavon, her former teammate in Bnot Herzliya, helped her make the connection with Rutgers and “has been very supportive and taught me a lot…she is like my family.”

Noga Peleg Pelc has quickly made herself an important part of the Scarlet Knights Women’s Basketball team and the team is doing really well; it is now ranked #14 in the nation and is working to secure a place in post-season play and a chance at the Big 10 Championship. Scarlet Knights fans, and particularly Jewish fans across New Jersey, look forward to seeing all Peleg Pelc accomplishes this season and in the years ahead.

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