Charting a Way Forward for USA Team Handball: Option 9: Youth and Junior Teams Emphasis: Fund up and coming athletes first

 

It’s been awhile since I’ve worked on my analysis of alternative strategic options USA Team Handball might want to consider.  The recent participation of U.S. Team in 2 Jr and 1 Youth competitions was a good reminder to assess whether a youth movement makes sense and how the U.S. might go about it.

 Background

Recently the U.S. participated in 3 Jr and Youth team competitions.  While this isn’t the first time the U.S. has played in age based tournaments, historically it has been fairly infrequent.  There are a number of reasons for this to include the cost of attending such tournaments and conflicts with school calendars, but the biggest reason has simply been a lack of players in the requisite age groups.  And, we’re not talking just about not having enough players in the player pool from which to form a competitive roster.  We’re talking about not even having enough players in the entire U.S. to form a 16 player roster.

Today, the situation has improved somewhat with the effective identification of dual citizen athletes and fledgling youth programs in Chicago and San Francisco, but our talent pool is still ridiculously small.  I don’t have exact numbers, but I’ve put together a rough estimate as to how many athletes the U.S. has in some different categories.

  • Lower Tier Pro (Men-1/Women-0)
    Residency Program (M-10/W-5)
    Clubs/Post College (M-40/W-20)
    College (M-170/W-40)
    High School (M-50/W-5)
    Youth (M-40/W-10)

A few notes on the number of athletes in each category

Dual Citizens Not Included:  It’s great that USA Team Handball is effectively identifying and recruiting these athletes, but they are limited, finite quantity.  There’s not much we can do increase this pool short of setting up some military bases in Scandinavia.  More importantly, the U.S. doesn’t have to develop these athletes.  Other countries are doing it for us.
Lower Tier Pro: I’ve classified a lower tier pro as someone who is a full time or near full time professional, Gary Hines, who is the best player on his 3rd Division German club team, is the only U.S. talent developed in the U.S. that meets that criteria.
Residency Program Numbers are in Flux:  USA Team Handball does not highlight or promote where it’s “elite” athletes are playing their handball.  The most recent information is the player pool info (Men, Women) on the website that hasn’t been updated in over 2 years.   I would theorize that it ebbs and flows, but based on social media posts it’s been more ebb for quite some time.  The women for sure don’t have enough athletes to scrimmage and I suspect the men’s program is also thin on numbers.
Expats Not Included: I only considered passport carrying Americans, so expats that are USA Team Handball members aren’t included.  This dramatically reduces the number of club members the U.S. has.
Only the “truly dedicated” are included:  While it’s great to introduce kids to the sport, having touched a handball at a clinic or P.E. Class, doesn’t qualify as truly dedicated.  The youth and highs school numbers are guesstimates based on discussions with Craig Rot and Martin Bilello on the programs in Chicago and San Francisco.

These numbers are ball park and for illustrative purposes: They are wide open to debate. It would be very interesting to take some time to fully define the categories and quantify the numbers.  And, for sure, I would be a huge advocate for USA Team Handball doing such analysis because staring at such stark numbers might very well lead to different resource allocation decisions.

A Tower, Not a Pyramid

Most sports have a development pyramid by which thousands are introduced to a sport at younger ages and as athletes get older the level of play gets higher and correspondingly the number of athletes participating gets smaller.  In the U.S. this pyramid is primarily based on school grade as most sports are intrinsically tied to schools.  Those major pyramid steps are middle school, high school, college and professional leagues.  There are some cracks in the school-sport connection with the growing popularity of travelling club programs, but for the most part school based sports dominate.

And, if your sport is not a school based sport?  Well, then it’s really tough to build a pyramid.  It might even seem impossible.  And, the end result is a tower, not a pyramid and a very thin talent pool.

Ways to Address the Tower Reality and a Thin Talent Pool

There are a number of ways a sports federation can address this tower and thin talent pool

1) Don’t even address the talent pool. Just focus on the Tip.
Rationale:  The National Team is the primary purpose of a sports federation.  Creating the pyramid is an impossibility.  The athletes in the “tower” while dedicated, for the most part, lack the raw athletic talent.  The best solution is to identify and recruit cross over athletes and train them to be world class handball players.
Historical Perspective: This is the strategy USA Team Handball is currently implementing and has primarily implemented for the past 45 years or so.  It drives me batty that smart people, despite a pile of evidence to the contrary still think this is the way to go.  All of the resources spent in those 45 years with almost nothing to show in terms of the sports development in the U.S.  It’s so frustrating…  But, before we send those folks directly to the sanitarium let’s look at the alternatives.

2) Don’t focus on broadening your talent pool; Make your thin talent pool the best it can be.
Rationale:  Expanding the sports tower to create a pyramid is a daunting challenge.  While the talent pool is thin it’s what we’ve got to work with it, so let’s devote resources toward making these athletes the best handball players we can.
Historical Perspective: This strategy has been implemented to some extent in the past, but for the most part athletes that rose up the tower were bested by superior athletes.  Essentially, it all depended on how successful recruitment at the tip was.  To a great extent, it could be argued that due to recruiting struggles it is actually the de facto current strategy.  Yes, good (not great) athletes are having quite a few resources directed toward their development of handball skills.

3) Focus on broadening your talent pool and the rest will take care of itself.
Rational.  The U.S. can try all the quick fixes it wants, but the reality is that the only way the U.S. is ever going to be competitive in handball is to create a pyramid with a broad talent pool.  It won’t be easy and it will take years, maybe decades for the strategy to bear fruit, but it’s the only sustainable path.  And once you have a healthy sized talent pool fielding a quality national team will become far easier.
Historical Perspective:  Outside of the very brief Dieter Esch Era from 2008 to 2011 this strategy has been given lip service.  Everyone wants a larger talent pool, but when push comes to shove, very few resources have been allocated towards initiatives aimed at broadening the talent pool.

None of these 3 options is the no brainer that its proponents might think it is.  Some will also surely argue that it’s a false choice to say that only one of these options can be chose.  And, I could certainly see that argument if resources weren’t so scarce.  But resource are scarce and tough choices have to be made.  In the next part I’ll take a closer look at options 2 and 3 in terms of pros, cons, cost and timing.

Handball Inside Interview with Team USA’s Rene Ingram

A German magazine, Handball Inside, Interviewed USA Goalkeeper, Rene Ingram earlier this year prior to his participation in the Youth and Jr Pan-American Championships and the IHF Trophy Pan-American Championship.

Below is a translation of the article:

Interview:  Grosswallstadt Keeper Rene Ingram 17, talks about his selection for the U.S. National Team and the prospects of team handball in the USA.

You are playing in the Pan American Championships with the US National team. How do you have two citizenships?
RENE INGRAM: My parents worked many years in the US and acquired a green card and naturalization, so they are able to pass on the US citizenship to their children. My brothers were also born there.

How did the Americans discover you?
INGRAM: My mother was approached by the parent of a player who was already playing for Team USA . Shortly after that I got an e-mail from the coach that they watched a few videos about me. He invited me to a tournament in Sweden but due to school obligations I could not go. Now that I am a student I am more flexible.

Whats your impression about the efforts of the US handball federation to promote Handball?
INGRAM: They are very dedicated and have a lot of enthusiasm. It is constantly progressing which also shows because they installed a “residency program” at Auburn University in Alabama for the National Team. They might also install it as an Olympic training site. In schools team handball also shows a rapid increase in popularity.

What are the training conditions like in the US?
INGRAM: Very good, great arenas, excellent fitness facilities and a wholesome approach to overall health. There is a lot to be learned from Basketball, American Football and Hockey as they are much more advanced in that area but very willing to share their findings. The Americans are sport enthusiasts and there are a lot of companies that generously support sports. One thing, that I have to get used to however, is that the trips to the games are very far.

What is the proficiency level of your national teammates ?
INGRAM: Where fitness is concerned they are at a top level since most of them also play other sports on a competitive level. Concerning playing skills the members of the residency program at Auburn University who train together regularly with additional support from high class European players are also on a good track.

Did the US Handball Association select more players with dual Citizenship?
INGRAM: There are three more players from Germany and one each from France, Sweden and Norway.

Do you think that you will be able to go to a World Championship or Olympic games with Team USA?
INGRAM: Certainly, even though right now it is a very young team that is just being built up and has a lot of catching up to do in comparison to experienced Nations. Motivation and fighting spirit are perfect already. Team USA placed 11th at the Beach Handball World Championship in Hungary 2016. There is still some time left to build up an effective squad till the next Olympics. I think that the U19 and U21 both have good chances to qualify for the world championship in July and August.

 

Team USA Youth and Jr Teams: Data, Observations and Analysis

The U.S. recently competed in 3 international competitions (2 Jr and 1 Youth) in South America.  A flurry of activity pretty much unheard of for USA Team Handball.  All of the competitions were web streamed and I’ve been sifting through the data, reflecting on what I visual saw and what it all means.

First some data on the 3 tournaments

Pan-American Jr Championships

The Pan-American Jr Championships took place in Paraguay. This event is held every two years and is for athletes 21 years and younger.  The U.S. put together a solid roster with 9 dual citizens with several years of experience playing in Europe.  Additionally, several of the players had previously played together in Partille and IHF Trophy events.  The U.S. narrowly missed out on qualifying for the World Championships when they lost the 3rd place match to Chile, a team they hadn’t previously beaten in Group play.  This loss was certainly, not without controversy as Team USA lost their leading scorer, Sam Hoddersen to a red card in the first half.  Hoddersen had scored 17 goals in the first match against Chile and his absence in the 2nd half clearly tipped the scales towards Chile.  Overall, the U.S. compiled a 2-3 record and finished in 4th place out of 7 teams.

Pan-American Youth Championships

The Pan-American Youth Championships took place in Chile.  Youth players are 19 and younger and 11 teams from Pan-America participated.  The Youth team roster was not nearly as strong as the Jr team roster and was really hamstrung by injuries to key backcourt players Amir Amitovic and Paul Skorupa.  Further several of the U.S. based players were just 14 or 15 years and too young and inexperienced for this U19 tourney.  Lacking depth at backcourt the U.S. really struggled to score at times. Still, they did pull together a big victory in pool play against Mexico, a team that went on to take 5th and qualified for the World Championship.  Overall the U.S. compiled a 1-4-1 record and finished 11th out of 11 teams.

Pan-American IHF Trophy Championship

The Pan-American IHF Trophy Championship was another Jr competition that took place in Colombia.  The IHF Trophy competition was established by the IHF to provide developing handball nations additional competition opportunities to improve their level of play.  The U.S. had won the North American championship last year and this event was the Continental Phase Championship with the winners from North America, Central America, the Caribbean and South American meeting to determine which side would advance to the Inter-Continental Phase.  The U.S. won the tournament avenging their earlier loss against Martinique with a thrilling come from behind victory in the gold medal match.  While this tournament is intended for “developing nations” it should be noted that Martinique is actually a Department of France with a fairly strong handball tradition.  Beating Martinique was a solid accomplishment for Team USA.

Now here’s my analysis based on my observations of the team and the data above:

What a great group of fine young men representing our nation.  These teams faced a significant amount of adversity.  Player injuries, matchups against greatly superior opponents, days long travel (often paid for out of their own pocket) and at times questionable officiating.  Sometimes adversity was overcome like the youth team’s surprising victory over Mexico and the Jr’s team gold medal win in the IHF Trophy.  Other times there were heavy losses on the scoreboard and disappointing losses like the Jrs 3rd place match vs Chile.  I really don’t know any of these players personally, but I sort of feel like they I do now from social media posts and watching them during the national anthem and after big victories.  Sometimes my commentaries regarding dual citizen athletes are construed to mean that these Americans are somehow less American.  Nothing could be further from the truth. Perhaps, I’m simply stating the obvious, but to a man, this a great group of fine young men representing our nation.

The U.S. can field competitive Jr or Youth National Teams… if the roster mostly consists of dual citizens.  The U.S. Jr teams won the IHF Trophy event and with a bit of luck or some different officiating calls they would also be headed to the World Championship.  It seems strange to say this about an American team, but, this success can mostly be attributed to superior handball skills and technique. Against the likes of Puerto Rico, Colombia, Chile and Mexico the raw athletic talent was roughly equal, but the U.S. clearly had an advantage in tactics and technique.  And, the obvious reason behind this was that the dual citizen athletes had received better training and were clearly more experienced than most of their Pan-American opponents.

Even with a roster laden with dual citizens the U.S. can’t compete against Brazil and to a lesser extent Argentina.  Against Brazil in the Jr PHF Championships that technique advantage, however was nullified and Brazil had better athletes to boot.  With Argentina, the same applied to a lesser extent.  For all practical purposes beating Brazil is like beating a European country.  They’ve got the training and they’ve got a healthy sized pool of athletes to draw from.  Meanwhile, the U.S. has a small finite pool of dual citizen athletes to draw from.  Basic math logically dictates that the chances of multiple world class athletes arising from such a small pool are pretty low.  And, in turn that means that a dual citizen heavy team will lose to Brazil and Argentina the same way a lower division club team can’t compete against a European national team.

If the U.S had sent teams without dual citizens the USA teams would have been totally uncompetitive.   One just has to look at the top level numbers to reach this conclusion.  Each roster was over 50% dual citizen and for the most part those athletes played the bulk of the minutes, handled the ball at the skill positions and did most of the scoring.   On top of that, German-American Rene Ingram played around 90% of the time in the key position of goalkeeper.  An American based goalkeeper might have the raw talent, but becoming a good goalkeeper takes years of training and match experience.

Teams comprised solely of U.S. based players would have lost every single match by double digits.  Yes, I assess that there would have even been double digit losses to teams like Puerto Rico and Costa Rica and score lines against the better teams would have been in the neighborhood of the 60-7 pasting that Brazil put on the U.S. Youth team.  This is not (I REPEAT NOT) to besmirch the efforts of American based players and the outstanding work being done by Craig Rot, Martin Bilello and a few others.  Just a cold hard acknowledgement that we have a lot of work to do in the grass roots department.  A lot of work.

Team USA has found a good, possibly great goalkeeper.  18 year old Rene Ingram is easily the best young goalkeeper to wear a USA jersey.  And, in my opinion, he is the best current goalkeeper in the U.S. talent pool.  He played in all three tournaments and was worth, on average, at least 5 goals a game.  At least.  I will be amazed if he is not starting for the U.S. Sr. Men’s team the next time they play competitive matches.  18 years old.  He could be our national team goalie for the next 20 years.

Team USA has found a quality Circle Runner.  Antoine Baup is, in my opinion the best young circle runner to ever play for the U.S.  It’s not as overwhelmingly obvious of a statement as it is with Ingram, but he will likely be a mainstay for years to come.  He’s currently playing in the German 3 Division and he has the size and athletic ability to play professionally in Europe at a higher level.  How high of a level is TBD, but the potential is there.  I would also not be surprised to see him crack into the Sr. Team starting lineup very soon.

There are several other players with Sr. Team potential.  Outside of Ingram and Baup, there are a number of players with potential, but, in my opinion, projecting their future Sr. National Team contributions is less clear.  This includes just about every single European/Overseas athlete. All very solid handball players for their age, but I don’t see them as can’t miss for a number of reasons.  But, the biggest reason, is that it can be challenging to assess how much of their individual success can be simply be attributed to applying their greater handball experience against relatively inexperienced Pan-American handball competition.

Of note, Sam Hoddersen, led the Jr team in scoring for both tournaments, but primarily because he’s got top notch handball skills that simply abused inexperienced Pan-American defenders.  Against Sr. Team athletes I’ve got my doubts as to whether he will have the same success in the backcourt.  I’ve been told he normally plays wing so that might be a future position for him.

William Kennedy, who is a Freshman at Texas A&M had a pretty solid tournament for someone who has only been playing the game for a few months.  Easily, the best performance by a U.S. based player and this international experience should pay dividends both for him and the Texas A&M program.

So, that’s my top level analysis.  In my next commentary I’ll try to assess what it all means for the U.S. if it ever wants to get serious about developing a talent pool of younger athletes.

Teams and Draw Pools for Women’s PHF Championship Draw Revealed: Cuba is No Show    

Cuba’s Women’s Team: Good news for the U.S. and other 2nd tier Pan-American nations: They won’t be participating at the upcoming Championships

The Pan-American Handball Federation (PHF) has revealed the draw pools for this summer’s Pan-American Sr. Women’s Championship and in doing so they have confirmed that Cuba, the 2015 silver medalist will not be participating in the competition.  There was no indication as to why, but it is likely due to budget considerations.  Cuba’s absence means that only two dominant teams (Brazil and Argentina) will be participating and that several nations, including the U.S., now have a realistic chance of securing 3rd place and Pan-America’s last World Championship qualification slot.

The 10 teams will be drawn into two groups of 5 teams each with 1 team coming from each of the following pairs:

  • Brazil, Argentina
  • Puerto Rico, Uruguay
  • Paraguay, Chile
  • USA, Guatemala
  • Colombia, Dominican Republic

Based on past performance it’s pretty much unfathomable that Brazil will not be in the final.  Argentina is not as good as Brazil, but as they are now the tournament it’s pretty improbable that they will also not reach the final.  Among the remaining 8 teams there is a great deal of parity with only Guatemala being at a significantly lower level of play.  I would give, Puerto Rico a slight edge based on their 4th place finish two years ago, but the U.S. certainly is in the conversation as well having split two matches against them recently at the NORCA Championship. Puerto Rico was, however, missing at least one key player, 22 year old breakout star right wing, Jailene Maldonado, who now plays professionally in Spain.  Uruguay, which beat the U.S. to qualify for the 2015 PANAM Games is also in the mix.

The date for the actual draw has not been announced.  The tournament will take place in Buenos Aires from 18-25 June.

2015 Championship Results: Link

PHF Article on Draw Pools: Link

 

USA Takes Gold after Thrilling Comeback vs Martinique

Team USA: Pan-American IHF Trophy Champions

The U.S. beat Martinique 21-20 yesterday to take Gold in the IHF Trophy Championship for Pan-America.  The first half of the match saw Martinique control the match and tempo for a 12-7 halftime lead.  The second half saw the U.S. and Martinique trade goals for the first 13 minutes with Martinique leading 16-11.  The U.S. then went on a 5 goal run to cut the lead to 16-15.  The match was then a nip/tuck affair with the U.S. first tying the score 18-18 at the 27 minute mark and taking its first lead, 20-19 with 1:12 left in the game.

The last minute had several frenetic sequences.  First, the U.S. lost its team captain, Antoine Baup to a 2 minute penalty.  Martinique scored shorty thereafter tying the match at 20-20 and then put a lot of defensive pressure on the down a man U.S. offense.  A wing shot by Youssef El Far missed, but hit the cross bar and was rebounded by Tyler Boykin giving the U.S. another opportunity.  And Sam Hoddersen took that opportunity, getting fouled for a 7 meter penalty shot which he then scored giving the U.S a 21-20 lead.  With just 5 seconds remaining Martinique immediately went on attack and received its own 7 meter penalty with no time remaining.  But, the opportunity to send the match into overtime was denied by USA goalie, Rene Ingram.  Video of the save and the resulting U.S. victory celebration can be seen here: Link  (The contrast between the Martinique and USA reactions tells all.)

Team USA Scoring
Sam Hoddersen- 11
Youssef El Far- 4
Antoine Baup- 3
Cedric Kollman-2
Michael Lee- 1
(Note: Sean Zimber was marked defensively almost the entire game.  That strategy held him scoreless, but I’m not so sure it was a smart strategy overall.)

The U.S. was well represented on the tournament All Star team with 4 players receiving honors

Left Back – Sean Zimber
Right Back – Sam Hoddersen
Right Wing – Youssef El Far
Goalkeeper – Rene Ingram

Cedrick Kollman was also the tournament’s leading scorer.

The victory qualifies the U.S. for the IHF Trophy Intercontinental Championship where the U.S. will meet the winners of the Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania competitions.  The IHF Trophy tournament is a tournament that the IHF has adopted to give developing handball nations more opportunities to compete.

Video of match: Link

Video of Closing Ceremonies: Link

USA Takes Care of Business vs Guatemala; Rematch vs Martinique Today for Title

Team USA on defense vs Guatemala

Yesterday, the U.S. finished Group Play with a comfortable, 28-21 victory over Guatemala.  Sam Hoddersen led the U.S. in scoring with 12 goals while Antoine Baup had 8.  Youssef El Far (4), Sean Zimber (3) and Tyler Boykin (1) rounded out the scoring.

The game had originally been scheduled for Tuesday, but due to strong rains and a leaky roof it had to be rescheduled for Friday.  With the win, the U.S. finished in 2nd place with a 2-1-0 record and today will get a chance to avenge its loss against undefeated Martinique.  The U.S. lost by 10 against Martinique, but with a title on the line don’t be surprised if this rematch is a lot more competitive.  The winner of today’s match will take home the gold and will also advance to the Intercontinenal IHF Trophy tournament where it will face the winners from Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania.

Game time is 1600 ET

Web Stream: Link

Competition Website: Link

USA Defeats Colombia 25-23 in First IHF Trophy Match

Antoine Baup (#6) and Sean Zimber (#7) on defense while Rene Ingram tends goal.

After a rain out Tuesday, the USA got some court action yesterday against tournament hosts Colombia.  Right out of the gate the USA took a 5 goal lead only to have Colombia chip away at the lead to end the first half tied 12-12.  In the 2nd half Colombia took a 21-18 lead, but the USA staged its own comeback and controlled the last 10 minutes of play for the eventual 25-23 victory.  Rene Ingram was instrumental in goal with many big saves, including several on penalty shots.  Cedric Kollman and Sam Hoddersen led USA scoring with 7 and 6 goals, respectively.  Antoine Baup and Sean Zimber added 4 each.  Michael Lee and Youssef El Far rounded out the scoring with 2 a piece.

Tonight the USA plays 2-0 Martinique at 2000 Eastern Time.  A win will guarantee the U.S. a trip to the championship game which will most likely be a rematch vs Martinique.  Even with a loss, the U.S. is still in good shape and would still qualify for the final with a win over Guatemala on Friday.

Live steam: Link

USA Men’s Jr Team to Start Play for IHF Trophy Continental Championship

Team USA at yesterday’s opening ceremonies in Tunja, Colombia

The USA Men’s Jr Team is in Tunja, Colombia for the IHF Trophy Continental Championship.  The IHF Trophy is a series of tournaments for developing nations that is played throughout the world.  This tournament features the winners of the 4 regional tournaments that have been previously played.

USA: North American Zone
Martinique: Caribbean Zone
Guatemala: Central American Zone
Colombia: South American Zone

The 4 teams will play a round robin and then the bottom 2 teams will play for 3rd and the top 2 teams will play for 1st.  The winner will then advance to the final Intercontinental tournament where they will play the winners of the other continental championships.

The USA had been scheduled to start play on Tuesday, but the game had to be postponed due to heavy rains and a leaky roof making the court unplayable.  The game will now be made up on Friday.  Depending on the standings this rescheduling could put the U.S. at a disadvantage for the Championship game as both Colombia and Martinique will have a rest day while the USA and Guatemala play.  Martinique beat Colombia 31-27 on Tuesday prior to the rain storm.

The USA team will include several of the players that competed in the Jr Championship last month in Paraguay.  This team narrowly missed out on qualification for the World Jr Championship so they should have a solid chance of winning this tournament for developing nations.  Martinique, which is a Department of France, however, has a strong handball tradition and could field a quality side.  For all we know, there could be a future Joel Abati, who was a mainstay on the French National Team for 14 years, playing for them. Colombia, as host, also should not be counted out particularly when playing in Tunja, which has an altitude of 9,200 ft.

USA Match Schedule (Revised)

Wednesday, 26 April, 1700 (Local), 1800 (EDST) USA vs Colombia
Thursday, 27 April, 1900 (Local), 2000 (EDST) USA vs Martinique
Friday, 28 April, 1500 (Local), 1600 (EDST) USA vs Guatemala
Saturday, 29 April, 1100 (Local), 1200 (EDST) Bronze Medal Game
Saturday, 29 April, 1500 (Local), 1600 (EDST) Gold Medal Game

Web Stream:  Link

IHF Trophy website: Link

PHF Competition website: Link

 

A Plethora of Handball Web Streaming Options This Weekend

The U.S. College Championships is just one of your handball viewing options this weekend.

The U.S. College Championships is just one of your handball viewing options this weekend.

Well, it’s often feast or famine for fans in the U.S. wanting to watch handball on TV.   Consider this to be a weekend to pig out big time, even if you have to plug in an HDMI cable to your TV.  Here are your handball options:

USA College Nationals

The Men’s and Women’s college nationals are taking place this weekend at the University of North Carolina and matches will be streamed all day on Saturday and Sunday and can either be watched on the USA Team Handball website or Facebook page.  Note:  If you’re watching on the Facebook page you will need to reclick on the live link for each game

USA Team Handball Page: Link

USA Team Handball Facebook Page: Link

Panamerican Youth Handball Championships

The final day of competition is on Saturday and the U.S. will play its final match vs Puerto Rico at 1000 EDST.  Placing matches continue throughout the day culminating with the Gold Medal match between Brazil and Argentina at 1800 EDST

Live Stream: Link

Champions League Quarterfinals

In my opinion, the best 2 weekends in handball are the quarterfinal matches of the EHF Champions League.  The first 4 matches are this weekend, 2 games on Saturday and 2 on Sunday

Saturday
Veszprem vs Montpellier 1130 EDST
Flensburg vs Vardar 1130 EDST

Sunday
Szeged vs Paris 1100 EDST
Kiel vs Barcelona 1130 EDST

Matches can be seen live at ehfTV:  Link

I will post “on demand” links to the matches above after they are posted on the ehfTV website.  Usually a couple of hours after the match.

USA Heads into Final Day of Group Play Hoping for Chance to Play for 5th

Team USA on their rest day in Santiago, Chile

Team USA on their rest day in Santiago, Chile

The final day of group play is today and for the U.S. it’s all about finishing in 4th place and playing in the 5th-8th consolation bracket where they will have the opportunity to play for 5th place and qualification for the World Championships.  Currently the U.S. is in 5th place, level with Mexico on points, but in 5th due to a lower goal differential.  Mexico plays Paraguay in the first game and later in the day the U.S. plays Costa Rica.

Scenarios for the Final Day of Group Play

There are 3 likely scenarios regarding qualification.

The Simple Scenario:  If Mexico loses to Paraguay and the U.S. either wins or draws against Costa Rica, the U.S. will finish in 4th place.

Paraguay, Mexico and USA level on 4 points:  If Mexico beats Paraguay and the USA beats Costa Rica, Paraguay, Mexico and the U.S. would be level with 4 points apiece.  The first tiebreaker is points for games involving the 3 teams and each team will have 2 points for 1 win.  The next tiebreaker is goal differential and since the U.S. suffered a 14 goal loss to Paraguay the U.S. is in a big hole.  In fact, they would need Mexico to win by 26 in order not to finish last in the head to head standings for these 3 teams.  Translation: If Mexico beats Paraguay, the U.S. can’t realistically finish higher than 5th in the group. (UPDATE: Unfortunately, this scenario is now reality as Mexico beat Paraguay 29-22)

Mexico, USA and Costa Rica level on 2 points:  If Paraguay beats Mexico and the U.S. loses to Costa Rica, Mexico, the U.S. and Costa Rica would be level on 2 points.  Again, the tiebreaker would come down to Goal Differential amongst the 3 teams, but it gets a little more complicated.  Here’s who would advance as the fourth place team:

Costa Rica wins by 1:  USA and Mexico level on GD of -1; Total offensive goals is next tiebreaker.  If U.S. scores 23 goals vs Costa Rica, USA advances; 22 or less Mexico advances

Costa Rica wins by 2 or 3 goals:  Mexico advances

Costa Rica wins by 4 goals:  Costa Rica or Mexico advance based on total offensive goals

Costa Rica wins by 5 or more goals: Costa Rica advances.

Today’s Key Matches

Mexico and Paraguay play the first match (1200 Local, 1100 EDST), so the U.S. will know ahead of their game whether they are playing for 4th or not.  On paper, Paraguay is the better team based on their easy victory over the U.S., but Mexico has a much better overall goal differential having played more competitive games vs Brazil and Chile.

Costa Rica and the U.S. play the 3rd match (1600 Local, 1500 EDST).  The prospect of playing a Central American team at a handball tourney usually conjures up images of an easy victory against an undersized, inexperienced opponent. Having watched the Costa Rican team a bit, though, they look to have a side that is pretty athletic and mature.  Meaning that their U19 team is composed of players that appear to be 18 or 19 and taller than one might expect.  Also, of note, is they had a pretty competitive match vs Paraguay, losing 35-32.  With the biggest U.S. offensive output being 23 goals, a slower paced game might be preferred.

Live Stream:  Link

Standings and Results: Link

USA Secures First Tourney Win; Sets Sight on Playing for WC Qualification

USA celebrates after win against Mexico

USA celebrates after win against Mexico

 

The U.S. beat Mexico yesterday 23-21 to get its first victory at the Panamerican Youth Handball Championships.  Down 11-8 at the half the U.S. came storming out of the gate in the 2nd half to take a 14-13 lead in the first 10 minutes.  The U.S. never relinquished the lead and held on for the 23-21 victory.

Key to the U.S. success was the outstanding play of goalkeeper Rene Ingram who had numerous saves and was named man of the match.  Also, playing a big role were Paul Skorupa and William Kennedy.  Each had 6 goals as the U.S. had by far its best showing on offense with fewer turnovers and good ball movement that resulted in better opportunities to score.  Kennedy has emerged as a much needed additional scoring threat in the backcourt despite only starting his handball career last September.  He currently is a freshman at Texas A&M.

The U.S. will have an off day today and will sets it sights on qualification for the World Championship on Thursday.  There are several potential scenarios going into the last day of group play, but the best chance will involve a Mexico loss to Paraguay, coupled with a U.S. victory over winless Costa Rica.

On Demand Video: 1st half 2nd half

Standings and Results: Link

 

Winless USA Seeks to Rebound vs Rivals, Mexico

Paul Skorupa on attack vs Paraguay

Paul Skorupa on attack vs Paraguay

Team USA is 0-3 at the Youth Panamerican Championships with losses to Chile (38-12), Paraguay (31-17) and Brazil (60-7).  Beset by injuries and with little hope of an upset against regional power Brazil, Coach Craig Rot chose to play his reserves and the 60-7 score reflects that mismatch.

Despite the 3 heavy setbacks the U.S. still has a solid chance of earning 4th place in the group if they can beat Mexico today and Costa Rica on Thursday.  Mexico is 1-2 and its only 2 points are against winless Costa Rica.  A healthy U.S. that plays like they did against Chile the first 22 minutes is certainly capable of closing out group play with 2 wins.  The U.S. does not control its own destiny, but 2 wins and 4 points would give them a solid chance of advancing to the 5th-8th semifinals.

Today’s match vs Mexico is at 1400 (Local) and 1300 (EDST)

Live Stream: Link

Standings and Results: Link

 

2nd Half Scoring Drought Dooms USA to Lopsided Loss

Action from the first half of CHI-USA

Action from the first half of CHI-USA

Last night’s match between Chile and the USA started out as a competitive back and forth affair with the two teams trading goals.  With 8 minutes remaining in the first half the score was knotted up 10-10.  Unfortunately for Team USA, though, Chile went on a 7-1 run to finish the half up 17-11.  And, the scoring drought continued with the U.S. managing only 1 goal in the entire 2nd half for a lopsided final result of 38-12.

Injuries played a big role in the lack of offensive production.  Starting left back, Amar Amitovic, was effective in the early going, but sprained an ankle and did not return.  Paul Skorupa moved from circle runner to backcour to take his place, but is battling a thumb injury.  Defensive specialist Matt Reedy also saw limited action due to a hip contusion.

After the match I had a short Facebook chat with Coach Craig Rot and he was hopeful that all 3 would return for today’s match against Paraguay.  He was also upbeat despite the loss, saying in part,

“I am so proud of my guys. We showed what we are capable of doing. Despite losing three starters, we went goal for goal for 23 minutes against five of the six starters from Chile’s junior bronze medal winners. Twelve of my players were playing in their first international game, and we were rewriting our game plans after five minutes because of injuries. So much to build on. So much to be excited about despite the final score. We are anything but done.”

A trip to the semifinals now would appear to be unlikely, but the USA can still set its sights on 5th place and qualification for the World Championships.  In order to play for 5th, the U.S. will need to finish 3rd or 4th in its Group.  Today’s match vs Paraguay, will be the first step in that task.  Paraguay, won its first match yesterday, 35-32 vs Costa Rica and the U.S. will surely want to avoid going into a 0-2 hole.

Match time is 1800 Local and 1700 EDST.  The match will be live streamed by DiversaTV: Link

On Demand Video of USA vs Chile: Link

Standings and Results: Link