Maggie Lena. Courtesy photo.

As a kid, Maggie Lena remembers trying all kinds of sports – tennis, gymnastics, swimming, baseball – but soccer was the one that stuck. She played for multiple local clubs throughout her childhood in Santa Monica, then in high school and college and now, professionally.

The Santa Monica High School (Samohi) grad recently joined F.C. Kiryat Gat, a professional team in Israel that competes in the Israeli First League as well as the Israeli Women’s cup.

“It’s funny how the world works,” she said, reflecting on her journey and the opportunities and connections that led to this point.

In 2015 Lena was featured on NickSport’s Soccer Superstar show, an experience she credits in part with being recruited to play in college and helping launch her career.

After graduating from Samohi in 2017, Lena signed with Marquette University in Milwaukee to play for their Division I soccer team while majoring in biomedical sciences. She then played two years at West Chester University in Pennsylvania where she earned a Masters in Public Health.

In the summer of 2022, Lena was part of the team representing the US in soccer at the Maccabiah Games, an olympic-style international sporting competition between Jewish athletes that takes place in Israel every four years. It was there that she met Israeli coaches and players that eventually resulted in her being offered a spot on F.C. Kiryat Gat.

Prior to the games, she had never been to Israel, but said she had always wanted to go and that joining the team felt like a natural fit.

“I had always had the intention of [visiting] and I am Jewish so I think coming to Israel to play and represent this amazing country but also my culture has been a huge factor of it as well,” she said.

Lena arrived in Israel three weeks ago and said that while it has been an incredible experience so far, that does not mean she has not missed home.

“I think it never gets easier saying bye to family for long stretches of time and also just the amazing community that I grew up in,” she said.

She said she valued the strong sense of community surrounding sports in Santa Monica and also treasured her time as a member of Samohi’s girl’s soccer team.

“The joy I had with soccer was playing also at Samo and being on that team for four years,” she said. “It was very special growing up and continuing my passion but in a more like fun high school environment.”

She said that adjusting to a new country and the language barrier have posed challenges during her transition, but she sees soccer as a way to overcome them.

“I think sport and soccer has always been a language for me,” she said. “You can communicate really with anyone around the world, which is amazing… the ability to just communicate and meet all of these amazing people through soccer has been fantastic.”

She said she hopes to keep speaking the language of the sport for years to come.

“Going pro has always been my dream and aspiration and goal and now that I’m here I think the language thing really came to fruition in like understanding the power of sport and soccer,” she said. “I want to keep playing as long as I possibly can.”

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Grace Adams

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...