But this week, she departs for the match of a lifetime.
Small will be one of six girls representing the United States in the junior division of the World Maccabiah Games in Israel, beginning July 13. Six boys were also chosen to compete on behalf of the United States in tennis in the junior division.
Another Pittsburgher, Emma Leibowicz, is also headed to Israel to compete in tennis in the women’s open division.
Small, an incoming senior at Mt. Lebanon High School, will arrive in Israel this week for a precamp session prior to the opening ceremonies of the game.
The World Maccabiah Games, held every four years in Israel, is known as “the Jewish Olympics.” It is the third largest sports event in the world. This year, about 60 countries will participate, including Argentina, Barbados, China, Germany, India, Kazakhstan and Singapore.
More than 7,000 athletes will compete in a wide range of sports, from baseball to judo to water polo.
Small, the daughter of Susan and Richard Small, has played the number one spot for the Mt. Lebanon High School tennis team since she was a freshman. She also plays in the U.S. Tennis Association tournaments, and has been ranked in the top 250 nationally. She is one of the top tennis players in Pennsylvania.
Tryouts for the Maccabiah team were held in Philadelphia last November. Small will be competing in singles, doubles and mixed doubles tournaments while in Israel.
The precamp program lets the athletes train for the competition in the mornings, and then provides tours of the country in the afternoon.
“We’re so excited about the whole thing,” said Small’s mother, Susan. She and her husband will travel to Israel to watch their daughter compete. It will be the first trip to the Jewish state for all of them.
“The kids get to play tennis with other kids who have the same mindset,” Susan Small said, “and they get to be exposed to Israel.”
The U.S. team will bring more than 900 athletes to this summer’s games. Some 200 supporters, family members and friends will be joining the delegation. Overall, 88 teams from 38 states and the District of Columbia will represent the United States, participating in 26 different sports.
Small said she is eager not only to compete, but also to see attractions like the Dead Sea and the Western Wall. And she is especially looking forward to the opening ceremonies.
“I’m pretty excited about it,” she said. “I was told the opening ceremony was very similar to the actual Olympics. It’s supposed to be very cool.”
Small doesn’t just want to be a part of the Games. She wants to win.
“I don’t know what the competition is going to be, ” she said, “but I’m hoping to win a gold.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com)