Puerto Rico’s surprise 4th place finish at last Summer’s Pan American Championships earned them a ticket to their first ever World Championship. Going into the tournament I figured the debutants were all but guaranteed to lose all their games on the way to a 24th place finish. And, after their first four games in Group Play it sure looked like a good prediction as they lost to Romania, Norway, Russia and Spain by an average of 28 goals. Their last Group Play game against also winless Kazakhstan presented an opportunity, but they were still big underdogs. Kazakhstan is by no means a world power, but they’ve been respectable in the past, even qualifying for the 2008 Olympics. Perhaps, motivated by assistant coach Julio Sainz’s promise to shave his head Puerto Rico used their speed and quickness to win 30-27. (And, for those of you don’t know, Coach Sainz has been the Assistant coach for the U.S. and the LA Women’s side for several years. Apparently, he’s on loan to the “Commonwealth”)
I’ve been able to watch bits and pieces of Puerto Rico’s matches on beIN sport. They’ve got a really young side with an average age of 22. And, they are undersized as well with an average height of just 5 ft 6 inches. The inexperience really shows with lots of turnovers, but their quickness is comparable to the top teams. If they can get some of their players playing in Europe where they can get more experience this team could have a bright future. One player in particular, 20 year old Jailene Maldanado will likely garner some interest from a European club. Teams are always looking for a decent lefty and surely some coach has already figured out that if she’s doing pretty well already with little experience, she might just become a star with quality regular competition.
What Might Have Been
Watching the matches on beIN Sports also has me reflecting quite a bit on what it might have meant for the U.S. Women if they had qualified. It’s not entirely clear, but as far as I can tell there’s only a handful of women currently training at Auburn. Certainly there’s not enough to scrimmage and reportedly a tryout last month had no women candidates. The Head Coach is coaching a Men’s club team in France. Essentially, there’s almost no program right now. Qualifying for the World Championships would have kept the program intact and have given several players a tremendous experience on the world stage. That being said, with an average age of 28.5 I’m not so sure that enough of the U.S. players were young enough that they could have realistically used the experience to build upon for future success
Also, seeing Puerto Rico play on a U.S. based TV network had me contemplating what it might have meant if the U.S. had qualified. For several years now I’ve been advocating a sponsorship or partnership deal between USA Team Handball and beIN Sports US. A no brainer deal that would be a clear win-win for both sides. U.S. qualification could very well have been a tipping point that would have facilitated such an arrangement. For sure one would think there would some promotion of a U.S. National Team playing on U.S. TV. Something that doesn’t happen very often.