USA Women with Great Draw for Pan American Championships

Obama:  And can you do anything for us vis a vis the upcoming Pan American Championship? Castro:  I'll see what I can do.

Obama: And can you do anything for us vis a vis the upcoming Pan American Team Handball Championship?
Castro: I’ll see what I can do.

Yesterday the Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) conducted the draw for the Women’s Pan American Championship that will be held next month in Havana. A combination of luck and generosity resulted in probably the best conceivable draw possible for the USA Women.

Initial Draw- Paired with Cuba

PATHF competition regulations call for draw performance rows to be based on the results of the previous championship. 7 nations participated in the 2013 Championships resulting in the following performance rows

– Brazil-Argentina
– Paraguay-Uruguay
– Mexico-Venezuela

The remaining 5 teams (Cuba, Chile, Venezuela, Greenland and Puerto Rico) were then drawn randomly to fill out the remaining performance rows. And, as luck would have it the U.S. received the very best possible result, getting paired with Cuba and thus not having to face a team that recently beat them 35-15 at the NORCA Championships.

Cuba Chooses a Tougher Path

But, while it was fortunate to be paired with Cuba and avoid them in Group Play in all likelihood the U.S. could anticipate ending up in a tough group. This is because Cuba as the host nation gets to select which group it prefers after the other 5 performance rows have been drawn. The results of the draw were

Group A
Brazil- 1st at 2014 South American Games and current World Champion
Paraguay- 5th at 2014 South American Games
Venezuela- 7th at 2013 Pan American Championship
Puerto Rico- 5th at 2015 North American & Caribbean
Greenland- 4th at 2015 North American & Caribbean

Group B
Argentina- 2nd at 2014 South American Games
Uruguay- 4th at 2014 South American Games
Mexico- 2nd at 2015 North American & Caribbean
Guatemala- 1st at 2014 Central American Championship
Chile- 3rd at 2014 South American Games

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to immediately conclude that Group A would be a far easier path towards a semifinal berth and World Championship qualification. Beating Brazil would be a tough ask, but Cuba surely would make short work of the remaining competition in that Group. But, apparently Cuba was not looking for an easy ticket as they selected Group B. As Ruben Gomez speculates at Mundo Handball, Cuba apparently would prefer to size up their squad relative to their competition at the PANAM Games later this summer. And as fate would have it Group B provided Cuba with that opportunity as it had all 3 teams (Argentina, Uruguay and Chile) Cuba will meet in Toronto during Group Play.

Team USA with a Great Opportunity

The end result of avoiding Cuba and then having Cuba choose a tougher path presents a tremendous opportunity for the U.S. to qualify for the World Championship.   In fact, it’s probably the best possible draw imaginable.   Arguably, based on recent results, 5 of the top 6 teams in PATHF are crammed into Group B. The U.S. avoids 3 teams (Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay) they recently lost to, plus Argentina and Chile, 2 teams that qualified directly for the PANAM Games by defeating Uruguay.

Instead, the U.S. gets to take on 2 teams they’ve recently beaten (Puerto Rico and Greenland) and Paraguay and Venezuela, 2 teams probably similar, maybe even slightly below Uruguay in terms of quality. The U.S. has not played Paraguay recently, but Paraguay finished a rung below Uruguay at the 2014 South American Games. The U.S. did lose to Venezuela at the 2013 Pan American Championships, 36-29, but the U.S. has improved since then while Venezuela hasn’t played as much internationally.

It’s a foregone conclusion that Brazil will win Group A, but the U.S. is clearly in the mix for a semifinal berth and a potential World Championship ticket.  Many thanks to Cuba for extending that warming of relations with the U.S. to the Handball World.

Preview: USA vs. Uruguay Last Chance Qualification (2nd Leg)

Newcomer, Greg Inahara, helped spark Team USA to a 25-21 in the first leg.  Up next:  The return leg in Uruguay.

Newcomer, Greg Inahara, helped spark Team USA to a 25-21 in the first leg. Up next: The return leg in Uruguay.

The 2nd legs of the Last Chance Qualification series between the USA and Uruguay will take place this Saturday in Canelones, Uruguay. The Women’s match starts at 6:30 PM (Local) and the Men’s match starts at 8:30 PM (Local). Uruguay is currently GMT-3 or 1 hour ahead of U.S. East Coast Time.

Livestream site: Link

Results of the First Leg and What Each Team Needs in Order to Qualify for the PANAM Games

These matches are the second matches of a two match playoff. If a team wins both matches they, of course, win the playoff, 2 wins to 0. If, however, there is a split with both teams winning one match, the winner will be determined by overall aggregate goal differential for both matches. Then, in the event that the goal differential is equal, the total number of away goals is the next tiebreaker. Finally, in the unlikely event that the score of the 2nd match is identical to the 1st match a coin flip will determine the overall winner.

Women’s Numbers: Uruguay won the first leg at Auburn by a score of 30-25.  Here’s the practical breakdown of what the U.S. Women need to do in order to qualify for the PANAM Games:

  • Win by 6 goals or more
  • Win by 5 goals and score at least 31 goals in the match on Saturday

Here’s the breakdown of what Uruguay needs to do in order to qualify for the PANAM Games:

  • Lose by 4 goals or less
  • Lose by 5 goals and don’t let the U.S. score more than 29 goals on Saturday

If the U.S. wins by the score (30-25) there will be a coin flip to determine the overall winner.

Men’s Numbers: The U.S. Men won the first leg in Auburn by a score of 25-21.  Here’s the practical breakdown of what the U.S. Men need to do in order to qualify for the PANAM Games:

  • Lose by 3 goals or less
  • Lose by 4 goals and score at least 22 goals in the match on Saturday

Here’s the breakdown of what Uruguay needs to do in order to qualify for the PANAM Games:

  • Win by 5 goals or more
  • Win by 4 goals and don’t let the U.S. score more than 20 goals on Saturday

If Uruguay wins by the score (25-21) there will be a coin flip to determine the overall winner.

Women’s Game: Can the USA nibble away at Uruguay’s 5 goal lead?

Last Saturday’s match was pretty much an even affair until midway through the second half at which point Uruguay took control of the game enroute to a 5 goal victory.  One could summarily conclude that it’s pretty unlikely that the U.S. can return the favor with a 5 or 6 goal in Uruguay. However, the U.S. can take some comfort in that several of their players pulled off a similar turnaround just 4 years ago against Canada. In that 2 match series to qualify for the 2011 PANAM Games the U.S. lost it’s first match in Lake Placid by 5 only to beat Canada on the road in Montreal by 5 goals a few days later. And, the U.S. scored more away goals to win the tiebreaker.

Also, working in the U.S.’s favor is that they can undoubtedly play better than they did last Saturday. The U.S. failed to finish many prime scoring opportunities, had far too many turnovers and allowed way more goals (30) than they normally do against teams of Uruguay’s level.

Working against the U.S. however will be the long road trip and a vocal crowd in Uruguay. On top of that, the U.S. style of play is more methodical and they are less likely to rattle off a string of quick goals to change the game in just a few minutes. Instead, if they are to pull off the turnaround it’s more likely that it will be done by nibbling away at Uruguay’s lead over the course of 60 minutes. So, a doable task, but the U.S. will have to shoot a higher percentage and really avoid the turnovers.

Men’s Match: Can the USA hold on to its 4 goal lead and can Uruguay handle the defensive pressure?

For about 3/4 of the match last Saturday, Uruguay had a slight edge, but then Team USA applied some aggressive pressure defense that rattled Uruguay leading to turnovers and fast breaks. In the end, the U.S. won 25-21 to give them a 4 goal lead heading into the return leg. (See video of open defense compiled by Mundo Handball: Link)

All due credit to Coach Javier Cuesta and the U.S. side for applying this aggressive strategy successfully, but one has to truly wonder how Uruguay was seemingly unprepared for this tactic. This is because the USA had already used a similar tactic against Uruguay last June after falling behind 15-5 in a pivotal Group match.   Uruguay struggled and the U.S. came within striking distance of a miraculous comeback only to fall short. To be surprised once is somewhat understandable, but to be unprepared twice is unconscionable.

Further defining the extent of this failure is the reality that such a defense can generally be easily defeated with simple preparation. There’s a reason why you only see this type of defense used by high level professional clubs and national teams towards the end of a match. It’s a high risk defense that more often then not leads to further disaster with a goal scoring barrage.

It will be interesting to see, if and when the U.S. applies this defensive tactic again. I suspect that the U.S. will try and hold on to its 4 goal lead with standard play. After all, the two sides were relatively even for much of the game in Auburn. Should this aggregate lead start to slip, however, it surely will be applied and then we will find out whether Uruguay will get rattled again or whether they have prepared and are ready to learn from their mistakes.

But, to be honest, it’s the U.S. that could be in more danger of getting rattled. 3 relative newcomers (Greg Inahara, Chris Morgan and Carson Chun) made significant contributions in the friendly confines of Auburn, but this will be the first big road match wearing a U.S. uniform. They’ll need to play well again and the U.S. will also likely need big games in the backcourt from veterans Gary Hines and Martin Clemons Axelsson, who was a non-factor in the first match.

USA vs. Uruguay Last Chance Qualification to be Live Streamed: What to Look for

The USA Women had a much needed offensive outburst against Puerto Rico last weekend.  Can they repeat that performance tonight against a better Uruguay side?

The USA Women had a much needed offensive outburst against Puerto Rico last weekend. Can they repeat that performance tonight against a better Uruguay side?

The USA Women and Men will be taking on Uruguay in the first match of a two game series tonight in Auburn, Alabama. The Women’s match starts at 5:30 PM (Local) and the Men’s match starts at 8:00 PM (Local). (Auburn is located in the U.S. Central Time Zone which is GMT-6.)

Livestream site: Link

USA Team Handball also indicates that the full match will be posted to Youtube a couple hours after the matches,

Taped Delay: Link

Understanding the 2 Game Playoff Format

These matches are only the first matches of a two match playoff. If a team wins both matches they, of course win the playoff, 2 wins to 0. If, however, there is a split with both teams winning one match, the winner will be determined by overall aggregate goal differential for both matches. For example if the USA Women wins the first match by 6 goals, but loses the second match by 5 goals, the USA Women will still advance due to having a “plus 1” aggregate goal differential.

Another way to look at it, is that the USA and Uruguay are playing a very long game with the first half being played tonight and the second half being played next Saturday in Uruguay. Because of this format it’s very important to note that simply winning the match by a narrow margin at home could be a unsatisfactory result. The goal is instead to win the first match by as many goals as possible. Or to put it another way, there is no “garbage time” at the end of the game as every goal counts in the end.

Finally adding to the home court advantage for both teams is the travel time required to and from Auburn, AL and Montevideo, Uruguay. Depending on the flights taken it could be anywhere from 17-25 hours of total travel time. And, on top of that there’s a four hour time difference, meaning that the Uruguay Men’s body clocks will be on Midnight when their match starts at 8:00 PM in Auburn.

A Closer Look at the Women’s Game

On paper the Uruguay Women appear to have an edge in this contest. This is primarily based on the last match between the USA and Uruguay played in July, 2013 at the Pan American Championships in the Dominican Republic.  The match was close for a half (14-12), but Uruguay totally dominated the U.S. in the second half en route to a 30-17 victory.

The rosters, however, have changed significantly for both teams. Notably, Uruguay is missing 7 players that scored 16 of Uruguay’s 30 goals in the 2013 match. The USA is also missing 7 players, but only 1 of them, Stephanie Hesser was a significant contributor in the 2013 match. And, Hesser who is perhaps injured and unavailable appears to have slipped on the depth chart anyway.

Also, the recent 3 game series against Puerto Rico might have been a breakthrough performance for the USA Women. For months the USA Women have struggled to put points on the board usually scoring in the low 20s.   This past weekend, however, they scored 29, 30 and 31 goals and if they can match that goal total against Uruguay it may be enough to put them over the top.

On paper, though, Uruguay is a stronger team than Puerto Rico and plays an aggressive 3-3 defense that has given the USA Women problems in the past. It will be interesting to see how the U.S. handles that pressure.

A Closer Look at the Men’s Game

Uruguay and the USA Men have an even more recent match that provides a window of what to expect. This past summer they met in a pivotal Group Play match at the 2014 Pan American Championships to decide which of the two teams would make the semifinals. In that match the USA played very poorly at the start and ended up being down 15-5 at halftime.   An aggressive defense surprised Uruguay in the second half allowing the U.S. to catch up and make the final score a more respectable 27-23, but the outcome was never really in doubt.

The rosters for both teams have changed some and both teams are missing a key player due to injuries. The U.S. is missing Adam El Zogby who plays professionally in Egypt and Uruguay is missing Massimo Cancio who plays in Spain’s Professional league.

The U.S. will surely be relying on its 2 veterans playing professionally in Europe, Gary Hines and Martin Clemmons Axelsson to provide the scoring punch, but it will be interesting to see how well coach Garcia Cuesta can integrate those players with his inexperienced residency program athletes. And, the U.S. has also called up several players who play on club teams in the U.S. to include Jordan Fithian, Justin Key and a trio of naturalized players from the former Yugoslavia, Serbians Vladimir Andjelic and Djorde Radovanovic and Croatian Vladimir Bicvic.

Uruguay’s side counts just 1 professional on its roster, Alejandro Velazco, who plays in Spain while 2 other players Gaston Ruddich and Sebastian Abdala play in the Argentine club league which while mostly amateur is fairly well established. The rest of Uruguay’s side plays club handball in Uruguay.

On paper based on last June’s match Uruguay is the the favorite.  That one match, however, was played in Uruguay and it seems unlikely that the U.S. will play as poorly as it did last June again.  The U.S., however, will have to make up for the loss of El Zogby at Left Back and the Uruguay side may also benefit from the greater familiarity their players have with playing with each other.

The Case Against the Dominican Republic and Why Sports Federations have Independent Tribunals

Overwhelming evidence point to the Domincan Republic Handball Federation repeatedly using overage and non-Dominican athletes on their national teams.  Will the PATHF's Executive Committee's maneuvers to disregard the Tribunal they established just 2 years ago succeed?

Overwhelming evidence points to the Dominican Republic Handball Federation repeatedly using overage and non-Dominican athletes on their national teams. Will the PATHF’s Executive Committee’s maneuvers to disregard the findings of the independent Tribunal they established just 2 years ago succeed?

Team Handball News contributor, Christer Ahl has resigned from his position as the Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) President of the Commission and Tribunal for Discipline and Ethics.  Here’s some background on the Dominican Republic’s numerous violations for over age players and how the PATHF’s Executive Committee is maneuvering to disregards the tribunal’s findings.

In the women’s youth world championship in 2010 (for players 18 or younger), which was organized in the Dominican Republic, the home team stunned the handball world by just barely losing against the eventual silver medalists Norway and then coming very close also against the bronze medal winner from the Netherlands in the quarterfinal.  It was the clearly best performance from any of the Pan American teams.  But already during the tournament, there were some suspicions that something might be amiss.   Pan American observers seemed to recognize some of the players from previous years, and some of them seemed rather old.  The same team had months earlier done unusually well in the Pan American Championship.  And it later on turned out to be a time bomb.

In September 2012, at the Congress of the Pan American Handball Federation (PATHF), Christer Ahl, well-known to our readers, was present as a U.S. delegate, in support of then USA Team Handball President Jeff Utz.  Christer was asked by the Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) to draw on his vast experience and take on the task of preparing the first ever PATHF Regulations for Disciplinary and Ethics Matters.  And, for good measure, he was also asked to serve as the first President of the Commission and Tribunal for Discipline and Ethics.

Christer has told me that he did not really expect to very busy once the Regulations had been finished, because in the history of the PATHF, there had never been any problems of a magnitude such that a Tribunal was needed.  But, Christer was prepared to support what he felt was a good initiative, because, as a fundamental principle, it makes good sense to separate serious disciplinary and ethics matters from political bodies, such as the Executive Committee and the Congress, leaving them for a totally independent and neutral body such as a Tribunal.

But after only one year, in late October 2013, ‘all hell broke loose’, when the Uruguay federation filed a complaint accusing the Dominican Federation of age fraud involving two specific players.  The focus was on their participation in the 2010 Pan American Championship, and not in the World Championship, which is outside the jurisdiction of PATHF.  There is no time limit for reviewing and punishing such a serious infraction, and the reason why the complaint was filed in 2013 was that these two players were now playing for Spanish clubs, traveling abroad on their own and outside the control of the Dominican Federation.  So the Uruguayans felt that there was some hope that evidence of the age fraud could now be found.  The crux is, of course, that passports have to be presented at Pan American and World Championships and that there was no real no basis for questioning the authenticity of a passport at such time.

I will not repeat too much here of what Christer and his Tribunal colleagues discovered, because you can instead read it more fully in an article on the blog Mundohandball:  Link. But through registrations in Spain, they found evidence of passports which showed that the two players would have been 23 and 20 years old, instead of 18, back in 2010.  It was also found that both players had been on the (senior) national team already in 2007, at which time their stated ages matched the ones they were now showing in Spain.  The Dominican Federation still denied all knowledge and suggested that any wrongdoing must have been the responsibility of the players.  This caused one of the players to explode and make a full confession, moreover explaining all the methods used by the federation.  Essentially, they collected birth certificates, national ID cards and passports for all national team players.  And, when this particular player went to the 2010 Pan American qualifier, she was simply given, and ordered to use, a false passport with a date of birth that made her five years younger and thus eligible to participate.

On this basis, the Tribunal concluded that the Dominican Federation had been engaged in systematic fraud, that the entire Federation management and many players were fully aware, and that the Federation President who had kept submitting false passports was the primarily guilty person.  It was noted that the two players had of course participated knowingly in the fraud, although perhaps under pressure, and that they were not the instigators.  In a case where the mentality of the entire Federation allows this kind of serious and systemic fraud to take place, the normal approach in international sports is to punish the entire community by suspending all teams from the federation.  This is also done in recognition of the reality that the fraud has hurt other teams from other countries, who have used their meager resources to compete, without suspecting that one of the opponents is cheating in a major way.  And, of course, this also serves as a deterrence to tamp down the temptation of future wrongdoing.

The punishments were announced last April, and there had already been interim suspensions in place since January.  The President was suspended for ten years, and the players for five and three years each, with the lesser punishment for the player who collaborated.  All Dominican teams were then suspended for three years.  The PATHF Regulations would allow for an appeal to the International Court for Sports (CAS), but no such appeal seemed to be forthcoming, although there were rumors of concern in the Dominican Republic.

Instead, there was suddenly a public confession, which was given a worldwide distribution through YouTube, by another player, a Cuban national, who had for many years been playing on the Dominican national team in various Pan American and World Championships despite never having had a Dominican citizenship.  Moreover, she stated that many other players had been involved either in the type of age fraud which had just been punished in two cases, or in the type of fraud that she had committed, namely being on Dominican national teams despite being citizens of other countries.   This suggested that the overall scope of the fraud was actually much wider than what had been reviewed by the Tribunal, and it led to expectations that PATHF would order an additional review.

Much to the amazement of the Tribunal, however, the PATHF Executive instead started conveying to the Tribunal that they were having problems with the team suspension, presumably after listening to complaints from the Dominican sports authorities.  They wanted the Tribunal to reconsider, something which the Tribunal noted is simply not permitted.  Instead the Tribunal pointed to the existing appeals possibility to CAS.  But apparently this was not a popular approach, as that would have allowed CAS to take into account all the new confessions and evidence, something which could have led to an increase in punishments.   So this has caused the PATHF Executive to come up with the outrageous proposal, despite the strong objections from the Tribunal, that the PATHF Congress, which is meeting this week, should be asked to review and overturn the Tribunal decision.

As Christer has noted, this is not a matter of the Tribunal thinking that it is ‘infallible’ in its judgment.  Any Tribunal welcomes, and feels protected, by the existence of an appeals process.  But, as noted earlier, the fundamental reason why a Tribunal exists is that it is intended to remove the decisions from the Executive or the Congress, which are always apt to act under political influences, taking personal or business considerations into account.   So every Federation which has instituted a Tribunal must then refrain from getting back into these matters, influencing the process or overturning decisions.  As Christer notes more in detail in an interview at Mundohandball (in Spanish)  it seems clear that the PATHF has completely failed to understand or respect the principles of a Tribunal.

The PATHF Congress will be addressing this matter in the next few days.  At which time the Congress could take one of two actions.  They could decide to respect the independence of the Tribunal and its findings.  This doesn’t mean that the Dominican Federation couldn’t appeal the finding; only that they will have to appeal it through the also, independent International Court for Sport Arbitration (CAS).

Or, the PATHF Congress can over turn the Tribunal’s findings, essentially make the Tribunal’s work and its careful review of the very convincing evidence meaningless.  Here’s hoping that the Congress Delegates will show sound judgment.

Part 1: Grass Roots vs National Team Focus: Recent National Team Losses Should Raise Doubts on National Team Focus

Intrepide Youth

How does a club team in Guadeloupe beat a national team from the U.S.? Answer: It’s start with superior youth development programs.

This past April the USA Women’s National Team traveled to Puerto Rico where they played several matches.  They lost twice to the Puerto Rican national team, beat the Puerto Rican junior national team and lost twice to French Guadeloupe’s top club team, Intrepide.  Depending on your perspective these results could be considered as either totally disheartening or a sign of mild progression.  If your perspective is that of an old timer you’re disappointed as Puerto Rico is a team that the U.S. would typically beat by 10 goals or more.  If your perspective is more recent it’s a sign of mild progression as the Puerto Rican team is roughly equal to the U.S. and we were able to play competitively against them in their home country.

More interesting to me, however, are the the two losses against, Club Intrepide, and the contrast it presents.  Most Americans probably don’t know much about France’s Overseas Departments: Guadeloupe, Martinique and Reunion Island.  I, for one, was fairly ignorant about them until I lived in France and started following French sports more closely.  France’s national handball and basketball teams have several players from these Islands far removed from France.  And athletes from from these islands also play on a number of club teams in France.  I saw this first hand in the over 35 basketball league I played in while living in Paris. Trust me, those guys from the Caribe can play ball and this tall American player knew he was in for a workout, but also thankfully for some Ti’ Punch after the match.

Still, Guadaloupe has only around 400,000 inhabitants and the town of Sainte-Anne where Club Intrepide is based has 23,000 residents.  How does a small town with very modest living conditions put together a club that can beat the U.S. National Team?  Well, there are probably a number of reasons, but I would argue that the underlying reason is that the tiny town of Sainte-Anne has a better organized and structured youth program than what the entire U.S.has put together coast to coast.  Most likely the players on Club Intrepide have been playing since their early teens, if not earlier.  Whereas most of the players on the U.S. weren’t introduced to the sport until their 20’s.

U.S. Women’s Team:  Modest Progress or Regression?

In theory, with 318 million people the U.S. can overcome its lack of developed youth programs by finding and training top notch athletes regardless of age.  And, superior athleticism can indeed trump skill and experience if the athleticism gap is big enough.  But, that’s a big “if” and these recent results are a pretty strong indication that the U.S. isn’t overwhelming it’s competition athletically.  Instead it is simply a continuation of less than satisfactory results seen in 2011 and 2013.  And, while Rome wasn’t built in a day there should be an expectation of better results.

Even more concerning is a not widely advertised loss that the U.S. Women suffered against West Point at the Collegiate nationals.  (I did not see this match, but heard one of the commentators mention it during one of the other matches.)  I suspect that the U.S side had some very recent additions to the U.S. Residency program, but there’s still no excuse for ever losing to a collegiate team. Residency athletes are supposed to be the cream of the crop, training on a daily basis and should be able to overwhelm a collegiate side.  Still, I will say it’s not the first time a Service Academy side has played a National Team close:  When I was a cadet at the Air Force Academy we narrowly lost a close match vs the U.S. National Team.  Thing is, though:  I was on the Men’s club team and we lost to the Women’s National Team.  (Maybe, this gives you some perspective as to where I’m coming from when I make an assessment that not one single player on the current USA Women’s team would have made any of our Olympic rosters from 84 to 96!)

Don’t Blame the Athletes

I’d like to make some perfectly clear.  I do not, nor should anyone else, blame the athletes for their lack of success.  They are a hard working bunch making a lot of sacrifices to improve their game.  They’ve been given the opportunity to train full time at a Residency Program and they’re doing their best to make the most of it.  Heck, in many respects as a former national team player with modest skills I really identify with them and their dreams.

Taking Stock: Are Residency Programs the best place to spend limited resources?

No, if blame is to be assigned that blame goes straight to the decision makers.  And, basically the fundamental question is whether it is better to direct resources towards athletes chasing the 2016 dream or towards efforts that will improve chances for U.S. success in 2020 or 2024.  As someone who’s a already expended quite a bit of time and energy addressing this question it’s fairly clear where I stand.  Although, written a year ago little has changed to alter my position.  In fact, it’s hardened as 2016 Olympic Qualification seems more unlikely now, the Auburn program seems to be a bit on the austere side and the prospect of a U.S. hosted 2024 Olympics seems even more likely.

Some might argue that resources directed towards 2016 also helps the out years, but the reality is that there’s minimal overlap at this point in time.  This is especially true if you look at the ages of both the men’s and women’s team.  The women’s program at Auburn is especially long in the tooth with many players in their late 20s.  Even worse in what I’ll generously call highly questionable recruiting the U.S. has brought in several rookies that probably range in age from 24-29.  (I say probably, because the U.S. Federation doesn’t list the ages of it’s athletes on its website and ages were deduced by internet searches for their last year of college.)  If out year success is desired it goes without saying that this sort of recruit should be the very rare exception instead of the norm.

The U.S. Federation hasn’t provided much in terms of rationale for this spending decision other than that previous residency programs have resulted in most successful national teams for the U.S.  A true statement, but one that neglects a number of “Yes, buts” to include:

  • That previous success wasn’t all that successful:  No Olympic medals and zero victories over top European sides in Olympic or WC competition.
  • European leagues are far more professionalized now:  Virtually every top athlete in the world is now training and competing regularly in a professional environment superior to the club and national team regimens of the past, further widening the gap between what the U.S. can do with a residency program.
  • Our competition in Pan America is now much stiffer: Grass Roots development in Latin America has resulted in stronger national teams, both technically and athletically.  And, their top players are now playing for top European clubs.
  • More post college opportunities for collegiate athletes:  Playing opportunities with decent salaries abound for 2nd and 3rd tier athletes in many sports making recruiting crossover athletes even more challenging.

Quite frankly, I am totally perplexed that smart people don’t look at these stark realities and come to the same conclusion that I have:  That a Residency Program focused on crossover athletes in their mid to late 20’s has very little chance of success.  That it is a huge drain on very limited resources.  And, that other paths and possibilities need to be considered, carefully assessed and pursued.

What are some of those possibilities?  In part 2 I will identify some options for consideration but, only after I first take a closer look at the current club situation and the state of grass roots development in the U.S.

Pivotal USA – Puerto Rico Match likely to determine nonqualifier


The North American and Caribbean Men’s Handball Championships will qualify 4 teams for this summer’s Pan American Handball Championships in Uruguay.  With 5 nations participating this means only 1 nation won’t punch their ticket for Uruguay.  There’s still quite a few games to be played, but with Puerto Rico having lost their first two matches by large margins they appear to be the weakest team.  Mathematically, there best hope is a win today against the U.S. which is the only other team without a victory.  The U.S. lost 21-15 against Cuba in its only match so far.  Following a 13-5 deficit in the first half the U.S. played much better in the 2nd half, actually outscoring the Cubans 10-8.  Based on that performance the U.S. should be able to get a win and all but punch their ticket for Uruguay.

Match time is 5:00 PM (U.S. Eastern Time) and will be streamed live at the link below.

Tournament Standings: Link

Webstreaming website:  Link

Caribbean Cup ongoing in the Dominican Republic


Caribbean nations are currently competing in the Dominican Republic.

The Caribbean Cup Handball Tournament started yesterday in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  This tournament is the Caribbean region qualification event for next year’s Central and Caribbean Games in Veracruz, Mexico.  Nations participating in the Men’s tournament are the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Colombia, Puerto Rico and Mexico.  The Women’s tournament has the same nations, minus Mexico.  Haiti and Venezuela had indicated that they were going to participate, but pulled out shortly before the tournament.  The result of this is that the 4 qualification slots will automatically be awarded to the nations attending.  (Mexico had already qualified as host.)

In yesterday’s action, the Cuban Men returned to International competition in fine style with a relatively easy victory over Mexico, 31-22.  The second men’s match between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico was suspended due to water leaking on to the court and will be restarted later today.  The Dominican Republic was leading 5-3 after 11 minutes played.  In the sole women’s match the Dominican Republic women easily defeated Puerto Rico, 30-17.

Although the tournament will have no bearing on qualification it will serve as preview of next year’s Central American & Caribbean Games.  As the Central American sides are relatively new to handball in all likelihood the nations participating in this all Caribbean tournament will be the same ones fighting for the 3 PANAM Games slots next November in Mexico.  In particular, it will be interesting to see how well the Cuban Men and Women perform in this competition.

USA Team Handball followers might also get a good idea as to which 2 nations they might play against in the the 2nd chance qualification tournament in 2015 for the PANAM Games.  The 4th and 5th place nations from this region, the 4th place nation from South America and the U.S. will battle for the 8th and final spot for the 2015 PANAM Games sometime in early 2015.  (For more information on 2016 Olympic Games Qualification check the links on the right hand side of the page.)

For more information and to follow the Caribbean Cup competition check out the links below.

Standings and results Wiki (Mundo Handball):  Link

Live Stream and on demand highlights:  Link

Pan America: Sorting out North, South, Central and Caribbean nations for team handball event qualification


I recently updated the World Championship and Olympic Qualification pages (See links on right hand side) and in doing so I got a bit of a geography lesson.  And that lesson is the following:

There is no definitive agreed upon standard for defining what countries are part of North America, Central America, South America and the Caribbean.

For sure, no one is ever going to place Canada in South America or Argentina in North America, but when you start talking about the countries in the middle of Pan America it’s wide open for debate.  Depending on the context and who’s talking Mexico is or isn’t part of Central America and the Caribbean nations can simply consist of the islands in the midst of that sea or those islands plus nations on the continent with coastlines on the sea.  Setting aside the generic debate, in the context of Team Handball those regions can be defined.  Albeit, it depends on what competition you’re concerned.  Confused?  So, was I.  So, here forthwith is an explanation that should help clear things up a bit.

1) The Pan American Team Handball Federation has administratively divided Pan America into 3 regions:  North & Caribbean, Central and South.  Those 3 regions are depicted in the top picture and qualification events for Pan American Championships are held every 2 years (Men) (Women) for the nations in those regions.  The Pan American Championships also serve as the qualification event for the World Championships, with typically 3 teams (and sometimes 4) earning slots.

2) The Pan American (PANAM) Games is a quadrennial event organized by the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO).  Qualification for the Team Handball Tournament at the PANAM Games is depicted in the bottom picture and is grouped into 3 regions: North, Central & Caribbean and South.  Qualification for the PANAM Games takes place every four years.

3) The Caribbean island nations (Barbados, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Puerto Rico and Trinidad & Tobago) and Mexico swing back and forth.  They are grouped with with the North nations for Pan American Championship qualification and grouped with the Central nations for PANAM Games qualification

4) Greenland is recognized by PATHF and therefore can participate in Pan American Championships Qualification.  Greenland, however, is not recognized by the Pan American Sports Organization (PASO) and therefore cannot participate in PANAM Games Qualification.

5) For PANAM Games qualification Colombia and Venezuela can participate in either South American qualification or Central & Caribbean qualification.  Granted, give the current relative strengths of both regions it would be far more difficult to qualify through the South American Games, but they have that option

6) Some competitions can serve as qualification events for both Pan American Championships and PANAM Games competition.  For example, this is the case with the upcoming South American Games this March in Chile.  The top 3 nations at this event will earn slots for the 2015 PANAM Games and the top 5 nations will earn slots for the 2014 Pan American Championships.  And adding a little more confusion is the practicality that Colombia and Venezuela would likely participate in this event for Pan American Championship qualification purposes only.

Enlarged View of Pan American Championships Qualification Map: Link

Enlarged View of PANAM Games Qualification Map:  Link

Summary translation of Interview given by Javier Garcia about the Residency Program and related issues

Javier Garcia Cuesta at the microphone

Javier Garcia Cuesta at the microphone

In recent days, Javier Garcia gave an interview (in Spanish) with the Handball de Primera radio program in Argentina.  They had heard the news about the Residency Program which is being initiated and had read some of the accompanying statements on the USATH web page, so they were curious about the intentions and the specifics. Here is a brief summary of the interview (with a couple of my comments within parentheses):

Javier explained that essentially the Residency Program has two phases: first, an urgent effort to improve the quality of the existing men’s and women’s national teams by giving at least some of the players an opportunity to practice together and with more intensity, so that they could combine with the players we have in clubs abroad to form stronger teams for the PanAmerican Games in Toronto in July 2015. The hope would also be that one could find some strong athletes without handball experience who could quickly become candidates for the teams. Javier admitted that the chances of creating cohesive, top level teams which would have a good chance to qualify for the Olympic Games in 2016 might be slim, but every effort will be made to field competitive teams.

The second phase would be focused on the next Olympic cycle (which Javier surely would hope will culminate in 2020 in Madrid, in his country of origin – the host for 2020 will be decided next month). There would be a more systematic build-up of teams, with a more realistic scope for newcomers to handball to become fully integrated and proficient. Javier emphasized that, during this period, ONLY the participants in the Residency Program would be considered for the national teams. (One might wonder what this means for those many players who are currently firmly entrenched in club teams abroad, such as the many dual citizens on our ‘under 21′ women’s team; does this mean that they have to move to Auburn to remain eligible)?

Javier indicated that an effort will be made to establish intramural handball, first at Auburn and then at other universities in Alabama and in the region (SEC?), for the purpose of creating a broader interest and as a support for the recruitment. However, the main new pipeline effort would be to create junior teams more widely around the country on a regional basis, so that talents could be captured and channeled into handball at a younger age and play competitive games on a regular basis. No details were provided as to how this could best be achieved. But the sense was that this would be a very necessary recruitment effort, parallel to the one that would be based on 21-22 year old college athletes who might be looking for an opportunity to continue in elite level sports after college, once they realize that their dreams of a professional career in a major sport are not realistic.

The interviewer also wanted to pin Javier down about the realities of USOC support for a sport like handball. (As I know from my own experience, many handball fans around the world are not so ready to believe that an Olympic sport in the U.S. might be left so completely to its own devices). Javier explained the vicious circle, in the sense that the USOC will want to invest its resources towards the chase for Olympic medals and not for the grassroots support of sports which are not competitive at that level. So Javier seemed to imply that the urgency of getting a Residency Program had a lot to do with the necessity of showing the USOC some real progress at the international level, with some hope that an improvement in the next 2-3 years might lead to stronger USOC support for the next four-year period.

Women’s Pan American Championships: Team USA Results (A look at the numbers)


Stephanie Hesser: The leading scorer for Team USA and one of the few bright spots for the team.

Overall Results

The 2011 Women’s Pan American Championships concluded this past weekend with fairly predictable results.  Brazil dominated the completion winning all 6 of their games by an eye popping average of 30 goals.  The Dominican Republic came the closest, losing by only 15 in group play.  The runners up, Argentina, lost by 23 in the Gold Medal, but can take some consolation in their 10 goal victory over the Dominican Republic in the semifinals.  That clear victory establishes that side as the 2nd best team in Pan America.  With Brazil already qualified as the 2016 Olympics host, Argentina should be favored to take 2nd place at the 2015 PANAM Games in Canada, where the Pan American slot for the 2016 Olympics will be awarded.

In terms of 2013 World Championships qualification, Paraguay was the surprise team joining Brazil, Argentina and the Dominican Republic as the 4 representatives from Pan America.  This is the 2nd time Paraguay has pulled off a surprise as they also qualified in 2007.

Pan American Championships Results Page:  Link

U.S. Results


The U.S. came away with a 1-5 record and took 8th place out of 10 teams.  Against their top opponents in pool play lost to Brazil, 44-10 and the Dominican Republic, 27-11.  Against the 3 teams that placed 5th (Uruguay), 6th (Mexico) and 7th (Venezuela) the U.S. lost by 13, 7 and 7 goals respectively, with the bright spot being that each of those matches were closely contested until those opponents pulled away in the 2nd half.  On the positive side, the U.S. did have a convincing 17 goal victory over Costa Rica, but this is tempered by the fact that the Central American debutantes lost all 5 of their matches by an average of 26 goals.

Individually, Stephanie Hesser, was the stand out player for the U.S. leading the team in scoring with 27 goals.  At 19 years of age, she was also the team’s youngest court player, so one can hope that she will continue to improve as a player for many years to come.  After Hesser, the U.S. had 5 other players with at least 10 goals in the 6 matches.  Those players are Megan Ballard (16), Julia Taylor (15), Kathy Darling (14), Tomuke Ebuwei (12) and Sarah Gascon (10).   Federation reports on the matches also indicate decent performances in the goal by Sophie Fasold and Freja Dobreff.

Video of several of the matches is available on the Pan American Team Handball Federation YouTube channel.  Although, the video is not of the best quality a sampling of several matches highlights some glaring weaknesses with the U.S.  In particular, the U.S. offensive attack lacks quickness and the team does not have any backcourt players with significant 1 on 1 scoring capability.  This lack of a scoring punch is most evident in the total goals scored against Brazil (10) and the Dominican Republic (11).  Defensively, the team does fairly well when it gets a chance to get set up, but offensive turnovers resulted in far too many fast breaks.  Finally, the 2nd half collapses against weaker foes, Uruguay, Mexico, Venezuela points to a lack of conditioning playing a role at the end of matches.

A Sideways Trend

Unfortunately, these poor results are nothing new for the USA Women.  Here’s a review of how the team has placed in Pan American competitions since 2007:

2007 Pan American Championships: 7th out of 8 teams
2007 Pan American Games:  Did not qualify
2009 Pan American Championships: Did not qualify
2011 Pan American Championships: Did not qualify
2011 Pan American games: 8th out of 8 teams
2013 Pan American Championships 8th out of 10 teams

(Note:  The Pan American Championship is held every 2 years and the top 3-4 teams qualify for the World Championships.  The Pan American Games are held every 4 years and the top team qualifies for the Olympics)

And here’s a comparison of 2010/11 and 2013 match results against the same nations:

vs Brazil (2011): Loss 50-10 (pool play)
vs Brazil (2013): Loss 44-10 (pool play)

vs Dominican Republic (2011): Loss 33-26 (pool play)
vs Dominican Republic (2013): Loss 27-11 (pool play)

vs Mexico (2011): Loss 29-27 (consolation semi)
vs Mexico (2013): Loss 30-23 (pool play)

vs Uruguay (2011): Loss 36-24 (pool play)
vs Uruguay (2011): Loss 30-23 (7th place match)
vs Uruguay (2013): Loss 30-17 (consolation semi)

vs Venezuela (2010): Loss 32-21 (PANAM Games Qualifier)
vs Venezuela (2013): Loss 36-29 (7th place match)

Chances for 2016 Qualification

Looking at that these numbers it’s hard to rationalize a dramatic upward trajectory that leads to qualifying for the 2016 Olympics.  Perhaps, if Team USA had been able to muster a semifinal berth or even a 5th place showing a decent case could be made that the team was on the verge of a breakthrough.  Instead, against the best sides it’s pretty evident that the U.S. is totally outclassed.  And, even against other developing nations, there’s a significant gap as the U.S. has been consistently on the losing side, albeit by smaller margins.  Yes, the U.S. was missing its leading scorer from the 2011 PANAM Games, Karoline Borg, but while she is a skilled player who would have helped steady the team I would assess her presence would simply resulted in some slightly more respectable score lines.

So, can the U.S. close the gap?  And more importantly, can it do so by July 2015 when the PANAM Games take place in Toronto, Canada?  Well, anything is possible.  But, as I pointed out previously a number of things would have to fall into place.  First and foremost, the player pool of talented athletes needs to expand dramatically and quickly.  And, if those athletes can be found quickly they would need a highly structured training environment supplemented with regular competition.  Can the players be found that quickly?  Does USA Team Handball have the funds or USOC support to set up a full-fledged (not an austere) Residency Program?  I don’t think the answers to either of those questions are “yes” and quite frankly, even if they were, two years is not a lot of time to work with.

Time to throw in the towel?

I most adamantly would never advocate telling an athlete to give up the fight in the heat of a competition.  And, I also would be reluctant to even diplomatically give such advice to an athlete that’s pondering their future.  I’ve been there and such a decision is a personal one dependent on a number of variables.  It’s not always a rationale or logical choice and it’s up to each individual to make that decision.

For organizations, however, decisions on the future should be made carefully, rationally, logically and firmly based on that organization’s goals.  And while it’s rarely a popular decision, throwing in the towel is sometimes the right decision.  Especially, if it’s not really giving up, but merely redirecting resources towards future success.

With those thoughts in mind, it should be clear that USA Team Handball should be developing a plan which is more focused on 2020 or even 2024 Olympic Qualification.  This means spending funds and man-hours on efforts that will that maximize the likelihood that younger and more talented athletes are found and developed.  In other words, athletes that just might be around 7 or even 11 years from now.  If one looks at the U.S. roster from the last event there are only 4 athletes that definitely fit that criterion:  Stephanie Hesser, Julia Taylor, Sophie Fasold and Freja Dobreff.

Youth isn’t everything, but it’s well known that every sports franchise takes an athlete’s current age into consideration before it signs a long term contract.  Older players can and do win (How about my San Antonio Spurs), but unless they are at the top of their game younger players will come along to gently ease them into retirement.  Not simply because they are younger, but because they are better.

I’ll close with one last telling statistic that should give any doubters further pause.  Argentina, which is clearly the team that the U.S. and any other wannabe Pan-American team has to beat for Rio, fielded a squad with an average age of 22.9 years.  Only 3 players on the U.S. roster were younger than average.

Greenland withdraws as host for PanAm qualifying – perhaps opportunity for USA to host?

It seems the Greenland team may yet again have to travel...

It seems the Greenland team may yet again have to travel…

The North-Caribbean (NorCa) qualifying for the PanAmerican Championship for men has been planned to be hosted by Greenland in Nuuk in October. The 2014 PanAmerican Championship is, as usual, the event that in turn decides the slots from PanAmerica for the 2015 World Championship. However, judging from firm reports on the Facebook page of the Greenland Handball Federation, they have now reached the conclusion that the hosting of the NorCa event is unrealistic for financial reasons.

Handball is a dominant sport in Greenland, and one of the few sports where Greenland has participated with some success at the international level during the last 10-15 years. So there is a substantial amount of pride involved in the support for the Greenland national team and, up to a point, also a willingness to support it financially. Their federation has made it clear that the event would be viable as far as the local arrangements and expenses are concerned. The crux is obviously the exorbitant cost of having the teams from Canada, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the U.S. find their way to Greenland. There are no easy routes and cheap tickets available, so a charter arrangement via Canada or Iceland would have been the only realistic alternative. But even this would involves expenses in the order of US$ 700.000.

In principle, the travel costs to such events are normally borne fully by the participating teams, but both the Greenland Federation and the PanAmerican Federation have always understood that an event in Greenland would only be viable if sponsors for the travel expenses could be found, as the potentially participating teams simply could not afford it. The International Handball Federation had apparently undertaken to support the endeavor with an amount somewhat below US$ 100.000, something which is an unusual gesture in the case of a continental event. (Of course, it is the IHF that has created the tough situation for Greenland by placing them in the PanAmerican continent…!).

But the support from the Greenland authorities will not be large enough, and the search for sufficient sponsorship in the business sector has apparently been unsuccessful, despite the realization that the event could create valuable PR for Greenland. So disappointed handball fans around Greenland, who had also tried to provide support on an individual basis, now seem to be resigned to the fact that the exciting plans must be scrapped. It must be frustrating also for the national team, considering that these players, just like the women, have frequently had to undertake travel to Argentina and Brazil for qualifying events in previous years. So it had only been fair, if they had now been able to play at home.

It may now seem that the decision by Greenland may open up an opportunity for the U.S. Federation. CEO Matt van Houten alluded to this in his recent interview with John Ryan. Presumably some amount of USOC support could be counted on for such an endeavor. It would be advantageous not just from a financial standpoint but also because it presumably would give an edge to our team. But there are clearly several hurdles that need to be overcome. One perennial problem in connection with intentions in the past to host such events has been the visa question. In other words, for some of the countries involved it has previously turned out to be difficult to obtain guarantees that all their players would be given visas to enter the U.S. Based on past experience, this could hypothetically apply to Cuba, Dominican Republic and Mexico. One would hope that this would not yet again become an insurmountable obstacle if our Federation were to move ahead with the idea of hosting the event.

THN (26 Jan 2007): Greenland Handball: A National Passion:  Link

PanAmerican qualifying for Men’s Youth World Championship

not very many of these flags will actually be flying in Venezuela...

not very many of these flags will actually be flying in Venezuela…

Today the PATHF Youth Championship gets underway in San Cristobal, Venezuela. At stake are four slots at the World Championship tournament in Hungary, August 10-23. Regrettably, there is no team representing USA in this event.

In fact, the PATHF Championship points to a discouraging ‘polarization’ within our continent. First, while theoretically such a Championship could have as many as ten teams, only seven eligible teams have entered, so the hosts Venezuela are ’rounding out’ one of the groups with its ‘B’ team. Among these teams, we have Argentina, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay, i.e., the four currently most competitive handball nations from the south; in addition, of course, the hosts Venezuela, but also relative newcomer Colombia. There is no representative from Central America, and the only team from the North/Caribbean region is Canada. In other words, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Greenland and Cuba are all missing, just like the U.S. team.

Four teams will qualify, and the format involves two groups of four teams. The way the groups have been drawn, we have a situation where Brazil and Chile surely will advance to the World Championship from group A, ahead of Colombia and the ‘B’ team from Venezuela which obviously is participating outside the competition. The excitement will be in group B, where Argentina should win the group, but where we may have a tough fight among Canada, Uruguay and Venezuela for the remaining slot. Let us hope the Canada will be strong enough to grab that slot, so that we will not have a situation where only teams from the very South are able to advance.

The Youth World Championship will for the first time have 24 teams. Thirteen of them will come from Europe, after Oceania gave up their slot. Most of the currently strong countries on the men’ side will be there (Spain, France, Denmark, Sweden, Croatia, Serbia, Germany, Slovenia, Romania, Austria, Norway, Belarus and host Hungary). Africa will be represented by Egypt, Tunisia, Angola and Gabon, whereas Asia will have Qatar, Japan and Korea. So the teams qualifying from PanAmerica will have their hands full in August. The event will take place in Budaoers and Erd, towns rather close to Budapest, along the highway leading southwest to Lake Balaton and Veszprem.

Men’s Junior PanAmerican Championship and GRTP referee course

A successful week in Mar del Plata

A successful week in Mar del Plata

During the past week, the PATHF organized a combination of events in Argentina: the Men’s Junior PanAmerican Championship, the South American Women’s Championship, and a GRTP referee course.

The Men’s Junior event also served as qualification for the IHF World Championship this summer. Not surprisingly, the final was between Argentina and Brazil, with the Brazilian visitors pulling off a 25-21 victory. Together with these two teams, Chile gained the remaining slot in the World Championship, by winning the bronze medal game against Puerto Rico b y the score 34-28. Uruguay won 5th place by defeating Venezuela 34-27 and Mexico had an easy time in gaining the 7th place through a 31-18 win against Canada. It is of course pure speculation to discuss how a USA team would have fared if they had participated, but the results and placement of the Canadians may give us a hint.

In the Women’s South American event, it did not exactly come as a surprise that Brazil was able to dominate by easily winning all the games in a round-robin tournament. Argentina came in second, but they were outclassed by Brazil (37-23, half-time 20-5). Uruguay and Paraguay came next in the ranking and qualified for the PanAmerican Championship that will be held in the Dominican Republic in June. Venezuela also qualified, as the best ‘non-elite’ team, even though they actually lost to Chile, under the new, somewhat complex methods of the PATHF. The five successful teams will be joined by the team of the host country, three other representatives from North America/Caribbean and one team from Central America.

PanAmerica has been lagging behind in comparison with the other non-European continents in the efforts to identify and develop refereeing talents for the IHF level. Moreover, the existing group of IHF and Continental couples has been dominated by Argentina and Brazil. This is understandable, as these are the countries where young referees can gain tough match experience, but it creates problems when neutral referees have to be found for the Argentina vs. Brazil battles in all the different categories and events. At this moment, only one iHF couple can be found outside the southern part of our continent, namely Guzman and Perez from Puerto Rico.

The IHF/GRTP course, which could draw on the abundance of matches in the two tournaments, had about ten couples participating under the leadership of the IHF Lecturer Felix Raetz, the PATHF referee chief Salvio Sedrez and numerous lecturers from Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. Apart from match performances, the final results were also based on rules tests and physical tests. The five couples who gained the Continental status, as a first step in their pursuit of the IHF license were: Paolantoni and Zanikian (ARG-women), Burgos/Delagado (ARG), Magalhaes/Rocha (BRA), Lemes/Sosa (URU) and Joergensen/Posch (USA). We congratulate them and wish them good luck in their continued endeavors!

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