This is the second in a series of profiles of Minnesota athletes who are competing for Team USA in the Maccabiah Games – also known as “the Jewish Olympics” – in Israel from July 12-26.
Aliyah Dahlin was interested in representing Team USA at the Maccabiah Games when they were supposed to take place last summer. Of course, COVID delayed it – along with so many other things – but the recent Edina High School graduate is still all-in to participate on the under-18 volleyball team next month.
“I filled out a form for an account saying that I was interested, and they sent me a t-shirt. And honestly, I didn’t really think that much of it because COVID happened,” Dahlin said. “The games got rescheduled. And then finally, over this past summer, I got an email saying, tryouts are this date in September, we’d love to have you there.”
Dahlin traveled to Philadelphia, the home base for Maccabi USA, for tryouts. She said that the coaches were trying to get a sense of type of players the athletes were, and how they responded to feedback.
“Towards the end of tryouts they started putting us with other people to see how we play with the people who would be our teammates,” said Dahlin. She found out in late November that she had made the team.
“They wanted to be able to notify everybody at the same time, regardless of whether or not you made a team,” she said.
In the era of youth sports specialization, Dahlin was a latecomer to volleyball.
“When I was younger, I tried basketball, I did gymnastics, for fun. I did tennis for a while, and I thought it was going to be my main sport,” she said. “But after like a few competitions, I didn’t like how it was only me out there. I didn’t have any team support.”
Dahlin now plays club volleyball for the Vital Volleyball program in Eden Prairie. She isn’t sure if she’ll be playing in college. She’s going to University College in London, and while they have a club team, collegiate sports abroad are not like they are in the U.S.
“They have like a school team, so I think I’ll try and get a spot on that team just to continue playing,” she said. Dahlin is planning to study anthropology and archaeology in college – and she’s finishing an associate’s degree at Normandale Community College in those fields. It makes sense given her position in volleyball – setter – requires a high on-court IQ.
“I think I’m a very mental player; being a setter, it comes with the territory because you have to be able to think both defensively and offensively and switch between them really quickly,” she said. “Even if I don’t have the highest vertical, even if I’m not the fastest, I make sure that I’m always thinking two steps ahead of my opponent and always trying to place my teammates in the best situation possible so that they can always succeed. Being a setter is kind of like being a quarterback where you decide where the ball goes every play.”
Traveling for her sport is nothing new – Dahlin is often on the road for tournaments throughout the season. But her mother, Adina, said she loves the idea of being able to represent the U.S.
“It truly has been one of her dreams to play internationally as well as to go visit Israel,” she said. “At one point have talked about looking at a gap year, so she can spend time in Israel. This kind of just rolled it all together into one.”
Bernie Dahlin, Aliya’s father, said he’s taking a big-picture view of his daughter’s opportunity.
“Just having this experience in life is going to be one of these things that you look back in 20 years, and you say, holy moly, I did this,” he said. “And that’s what really makes me happy. Because this is something that people don’t do.”