For most American students, high school graduation means college acceptance letters and picking the right major.
For Yamit Haba, it meant learning how to shoot and driving in tanks while fulfilling her two-year requirement in the Israeli National Army.
Haba was part of a backup force that was in charge of navigating routes for tanks.
It involved quick decision making and having a good eye for selecting the best routes for the rest of the troops to travel.
The junior outside hitter for Temple’s volleyball squad accepted her responsibility and put her collegiate career on hold until she came to Philadelphia in 1999.
“Every little kid in Israel knows that when he or she reaches 18, they’re going to the army,” Haba said.
“So you want to do the best job for your country.”
Haba, a 22-year-old business management major, was a member of the Israeli National volleyball team before joining the army.
An excellent student and athlete, Haba was initially recruited for Israeli Intelligence, an elite division of the army.
Her commitment to the national team prevented her from joining the division. She would have been forced to live on base, making travelling with the team impossible.
“They wanted me to go to intelligence because I had good grades,” Haba said. “I couldn’t be there but I wanted to.”
“I think it’s an advantage,” Temple volleyball coach Bob Bertucci said. “If someone’s gone through the military experience I think there’s a certain level of maturity they develop from that.
“There’s also an ability to understand teamwork. So there’s a lot of intangibles you get from that experience. So I think that was a plus in her favor.”
Haba felt the basic training aspect was beneficial. In the six months she spent away from home, Haba was lucky enough to have some friends serving with her.
“Most of the players on the national team that age were serving as well,” Haba said.
“It was fun. At the beginning, it was tough because of the basic training was unreal. It was crazy.”
The intense daily routines consisted of constant running and cleaning, calisthenics, and other physical activities testing coordination like agility and reaction time.
Haba was groomed to function attentively with little or no sleep and learned how to properly walk and talk.
She even took self-defense classes and handled an assortment of weapons for combat.
After she served her two years, she decided to enroll at Temple based solely on the recommendation from former Owls assistant coach Gilad Doran, who saw Haba play while she was with the national team.
“His comment to me was she had some leadership qualities, that she’s a very caring and compassionate individual,” Bertucci said.
“So there were a lot of personality characteristics that were positive about her other than her volleyball.”
When she arrived on campus and took to the court, Haba was one of only four international players on the roster.
This season, Haba has six teammates from different countries.
Still, the shift from one country to another was daunting.
“It’s kind of what you see in the movies,” Haba said.
“It was a big change.”
Haba is one of the most valuable and experienced players on a team that just captured the regular season Atlantic 10 Conference title and has been a major factor in the Owls’ success over the past three years.
This season she has a .241 attack percentage and averages 3.62 digs per game.
“I think the experience she had internationally translates immediately for her to come in as a freshman and step into the lineup,” Bertucci said.
While Haba credits many people and experiences for her stability on the court and in the classroom, her military training ranks near the top.
“[I have a] belief in myself,” Haba said. “A lot of self-confidence, leadership and discipline.”
Chris Silva can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org