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

 

USA Youth Team Starts Panamerican Championships with Key Match Vs Hosts, Chile

Rene Ingram, the top goalie at the Panamerican Jrs Championships will be back in the goal tonight for Team USA at the Youth Championships.

Rene Ingram, the top goalie at the Panamerican Jrs Championships, will be back in the goal tonight for Team USA at the Panamerican Youth Championships.

The USA Youth (U19) Team opens play today with what is likely to be a pivotal match vs hosts Chile.  Pivotal, because Chile and the U.S., on paper, appear to be the 2 teams in Group B with the best chance to finish in 2nd place behind regional power, Brazil.  And a 2nd place finish in group play will result in a spot in the tournament semifinals and qualification for the World Junior Championships later this summer in Georgia.

The U.S. roster is a mix of dual citizens who learned to play the sport in Europe and U.S. based players.  The dual citizen contingent features 5 Germans, 1 Swede, 1 Dane and 1 Bosnian while the U.S. contingent consists of 5 athletes from Craig Rot’s Chicago area program, 1 athlete from San Francisco and 1 athlete from Texas A&M.  Sure to play a big role our 3 holdovers from the recent Junior (U21) Championship.  Rene Ingram will be back in goal and back on the will be Amar Amitovic and Paul Skorupa.  All 3 will surely be keen on avenging the bronze medal loss to Chile.

Tonight’s game is at 2030 (Local) and 1930 (EDST).  A live stream should be available for viewing here:  Link

Competition website: Link

USA Takes 2nd Place at NORCA after Close Loss to Puerto Rico in Final

NORCA Champions, Puerto Rico (Center), Runners up, USA (Left) and 3rd place, the Dominican Republic (Right)

NORCA Champions, Puerto Rico (Center), Runners up, USA (Left) and 3rd place, the Dominican Republic (Right)

The U.S. came up short in its quest for gold last night losing to Puerto Rico 28-27.  Puerto Rico and the U.S. traded goals to start the game and the score was tied midway through the first half at 7-7.  Puerto Rico then secured a 2 goal lead and would never relinquish the lead the remainder of the game.  At the half they led 16-14 and they further stretched the lead to 26-20 with 10 minutes left in the game.  The U.S. then staged a comeback reminiscent of their first match, outscoring Puerto Rico 8-1, coming up just short in the end.

Team USA was led in scoring by veterans Kathy Darling with 7 and Sarah Gascon with 6.  Nicole Anderson added 4 while Ashley Butler and Jence Rhoads had 3 each.  Rounding out the scoring was Julia Taylor with 2 and Ashley VanRy and Zoe Lombard with 1 a piece.

Overall, it was a pretty successful tournament for the U.S. with 4 solid wins and 1 loss to hosts Puerto Rico in the Final.  This is particularly true, when one considers that without a full complement of athletes training at Auburn, roughly half the team hasn’t been able to scrimmage, let alone play regular competitive matches for the past 2 years.  While the competition in NORCA isn’t very strong this still is a remarkable achievement and a testament to the determination of the athletes who made significant financial and personal sacrifices just to attend the tournament.

The U.S., along with Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic (3rd place winners over Greenland) have also qualified for the Pan American Championships which will take place this June in Argentina.  Brazil, Argentina and Cuba will be strong favorites to finish in the top 3 and secure qualification for the World Championship, but the USA will be among several teams that will be looking to earn the fourth semifinal spot.

On Demand Video: Link

Team USA Qualifies for Panamerican Championships; Plays for NORCA Gold Tonight

Team USA celebrates a hard fought win over Greenland and qualification for the Panamerican Championships.

Team USA celebrates a hard fought win over Greenland and qualification for the Panamerican Championships.

Team USA held off Greenland 20-18 to earn qualification to the Panamerican Championships later this summer in Argentina.  Tonight they will play hosts Puerto Rico, winners over the Dominican Republic, 32-23, in the gold medal match at 1930 EDST.  Greenland will play the Dominican Republic at 1730 for bronze and the last ticket to the Panamerican championships.

The match between the U.S. and Greenland was tightly contested throughout with neither team leading by more than a couple goals throughout.  The U.S. led 10-9 at the half, but Greenland mounting a comeback in the 2nd half to take the lead.  The U.S. fought back with Ashley VanRyn aggressive play on offense to tie the game at 18-18.  At which point the U.S. clamped down on defense to close out the game 20-18.

Video (2nd half): Link (Courtesy of Greenland supporter, Boad Moller)

USA Post Game Celebration (USATH Facebook Page): Link

Tonight’s game will be broadcast live on 360 Deportes starting at 1930 EDST:  Link

Team USA Finishes Group Play with Resounding Win over the Dominican Republic

Julia Taylor on attack vs the Dominican Republic

Julia Taylor on attack vs the Dominican Republic

The U.S. closed out group play with an easy 26-13 victory over the previously unbeaten Dominican Republic.  Unlike its first two matches, Team USA, left no doubt as to who was the better team as it dominated the match from start to finish. Particularly encouraging was a stifling defense that limited the Dominicans to just 13 goals in 60 minutes.

Team USA was led in scoring by newcomer, Ashley Butler, with 7 goals. Kathy Darling had 4 goals, while Ashley VanRyn, Elizabeth Hartnett and Jence Rhoads had 3 a piece.  Rounding out the scoring were Jennifer Fithian with 2 and Nicole Andersen, Julia Taylor and Shani Levinkind with 1 each.

Note:  Nicole Andersen injured her knee in the first half and her status for tonight’s game is unknown.  Zoe Lombard has been cleared to play.

The U.S. will now play Greenland in the first semifinal tonight at 1730 EDST.  According to the U.S. Federation website a livestream of the match will be provided by Greenland supporter Boas Moller at his Facebook page: Link

The second semifinal will be between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic at 1930 EDST.

Analysis

Ashley Butler, left handed and just 19, has been a welcome addition to the U.S. providing a much needed scoring threat from the right hand side of the court.   She has dual German-American citizenship and has been playing since age 10.  She currently plays for HSG Hude Falkenberg in the Nordsee Oberliga (Germany’s 4th Division).  At 5’4”, she might be a bit undersized at back court, but against NORCA level competition she more than compensates that shortcoming with quickness and good court sense.  Against stiffer competition she may struggle to score at 9 meters and so could be a better fit at right wing.  As a lefty with good quickness she could progress through the club ranks at the right wing position and could be a mainstay with the U.S. national team for many years to come.

Regarding the upcoming semifinal, the U.S. can take comfort in making it through group play undefeated and finishing group play with a resounding, dominating win.  But, hopefully, it’s a reserved confidence as Greenland showed that it could compete with the U.S.  Key to the U.S., as usual, will be controlling the pace of play and avoiding turnovers.  In a helter skelter match anything can happen, but in a methodical game where the U.S. can set up their half court defense, they can dominate and control the match.

Team USA Stays Undefeated in NORCA Championships with a Win over Greenland

Ashley Butler leaps high as she scores 1 of her 4 goals for Team USA

Ashley Butler leaps high as she scores 1 of her 4 goals for Team USA

Team USA stayed unbeaten in North American & Caribbean Championships (NORCA) play with a hard fought 25-23 win over Greenland yesterday.  The match was a see-saw battle.  The U.S. dominated the first half and led 14-10 at the break.  In the 2nd half Greenland dominated the first 10 minutes of play with a 9-2 run to take a 19-16 lead.  The U.S., however, clamped down on defense at times marking Greenland’s Anja Salso.  The stepped up defense worked and the U.S. closed out the game with a 9-4 run for the 25-23 victory.

Kathy Darling again led the U.S. with 7 goals and currently is the overall tourney scoring leader with 14.  Ashley Butler and Sarah Gascon added 4, while Ashley Van Ryn and Jence Rhoads scored 3 each.  Rounding out the scoring was Julia Taylor with 2 and Elizabeth Hartnett and Shani Levinkind with 1 each.   Zoe Lombard and Nicole Andersen did not play as a precaution to concussion that each had previously received, but thet will hopefully return to the lineup tonight.

In last night’s other matchup Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic played to a 23 – 23 Draw. The current standings are

  • USA 2-0-0 4 pts +4 GD
  • Dominican Republic 1-0-1 3 pts +3 GD
  • Puerto Rico 0-1-1 1 Pt -2 GD
  • Greenland 0-2-0 0 pts -5 GD

The U.S. concludes Group play today with a match against the Dominican Republic.  The Dominican Republic beat Greenland on day 1 and drew with Puerto Rico yesterday, so they are right behind the U.S. in the standings.  If the U.S. wins or draws vs the Dominican Republic it will finish Group Play in first place and will play the fourth place team in the semifinals which will be the loser of tonight’s Greenland-Puerto Rico matchup.  Should the U.S. lose tonight they will finish in second place and accordingly will play the winner of the Greenland – Puerto Rico match.

Video of the match is available via Greenland supporter Boas Muller’s Facebook Page:

1st Half Video: Link

2nd Half Video: Link

The U.S. – Dominican Republic match starts at 1730 EDST.  If there is a live video feed I will post it to the Team Handball News Facebook page.

Team USA Starts NORCA Tourney with Epic Comeback

 

Jennifer Fithian wraps up a Puerto Rican attacker.  Also in the picture, Nicole Andersen (99) and Shani Levinkind (23)

Jennifer Fithian wraps up a Puerto Rican attacker. Also in the picture, Nicole Andersen (99) and Shani Levinkind (23)

Team USA opened the North American & Caribbean (NORCA) Championships yesterday with a big come from behind 28-26 victory over hosts Puerto Rico.  The match did not start out well for the U.S. with Puerto Rico taking advantage of several U.S. miscues on offense to surge to a 17-11 lead at the half.

The second half, however, was an entirely different story as the U.S. started the half with 2 quick scores from backcourt player Nicole Andersen.  This triggered a 9-2 scoring blitz and a 20-19 lead for the U.S.  The U.S. then extended their lead to 24-21.  Puerto Rico fought back to tie the score 24-24, but the comeback was squashed when veteran Sarah Gascon stopped a fast break with a timely charging call and followed it up immediately on offense with a forced 7 meter penalty shot.

Kathy Darling led the U.S. scoring attack with 7 goals and Nicole Andersen added 6.  Zoe Lombard, Jence Rhoads and Amy Butler had 3 a piece.  Rounding out the scoring was Julia Taylor, Sarah Gascon and Shani Levinkind with 2 each.  Nathalys Ceballo led Puerto Rico with 7 goals.

The U.S. continues with Group play matches tonight against Greenland and Saturday vs the Dominican Republic.  There are 4 teams in the tournament and all 4 teams will advance to the semifinals on Sunday with the 1st place team playing the 4th place team and the 2nd place team playing the 3rd place team.  On Monday the semifinal winners will play for gold while the semifinal loser will play for bronze.  More importantly the 3rd place match will also be a qualification match for the Pan American Championships later this summer with the winner advancing and the loser staying home.

On Demand Video of Match: Link

Note:  Except for the finals (gold and bronze medal matches) only matches with hosts, Puerto Rico will be streamed.  This means that the U.S. matches between Greenland and the Dominican Republic will not be available for viewing and that the U.S. semifinal match on Sunday will be streamed only if the U.S. plays Puerto Rico.  The Final match on Monday should be available regardless of who the U.S. plays.

Analysis:  The U.S. and Puerto Rico have significantly contrasting styles.  Puerto Rico is a smaller, quicker team that excels when the pace of the game is fast with lots of transition fast breaks.  The USA is taller and has consistently shown that they can play solid defense in a half court setting.  Where the U.S. has often struggled, however, is with inconsistent backcourt play on offense leading to limited offensive output and too many turnovers.

In the first half the pace of play definitely favored Puerto Rico.  With too many turnovers by the U.S. leading to fast break opportunities.  In the second half, however, the backcourt tandem of Kathy Darling and Nicole Andersen started to click more effectively resulting in more consistent scoring and fewer turnovers.  With fewer fast break opportunities Puerto Rico was forced to score in a set offense where they were stifled by the U.S. defense which was further backed up by strong play by goalie Bryana Newbern.

This was a promising win for the U.S. which now has two more group play matches to further integrate newcomers based in Europe into a core group of veterans that has played together longer.

Team USA Loses to Chile in Rematch for 3rd Place

The pivotal moment of the game: USA's leading scorer, Sam Hoddersen is red carded for this defensive play.

The pivotal moment of the game: USA’s leading scorer, Sam Hoddersen is red carded for this defensive play

In a 3rd place match that would also determine qualification to the Jr World Championships the USA came up short 23-18 vs Chile. Chile led throughout the match, and the USA mounted several comebacks in the 2nd half cutting the lead to 1 on a couple of occasions, but could never get over the hump. With 8 minutes left and the score 17-16, Chile closed out the game with a 6-2 run for the eventual 23-18 victory.

Abou Fofana led the U.S. in scoring with 7 goals. Antoine Baup, Alexander Binderis and Sebastian Wheeler had 3 each and Sam Hoddersen had 2 goals. Chile was led by Aaron Codina with 8. Fofana had several nice jump shots at 9 meters and Antoine Baup’s circle play was outstanding causing several penalty shot opportunities and 2 minute penalties.

The key play of the match without a doubt was Sam Hoddersen’s defensive foul on Chile’s right wing Enzo Toro with 6:05 remaining in the first half. The play resulted in a red card and Hodderesen’s exclusion from play for the rest of the match. As is often the case with defense against the wing it was a bang-bang play that in real time looked pretty innocuous. As Toro writhed in pain on the court Hoddersen pleaded his case to no avail.

Video: Link (foul occurs at 29:07 on Youtube clock)

Further compounding my suspicion was a red card exclusion of Chile’s Ignacio Porta just a few minutes earlier. Porta had fouled USA Circle Runner, Antoine Baup, and had received his 2nd two minute suspension of the game. Porta then apparently mouthed off to the ref, receiving yet another two minute penalty and as it was his 3rd of the game he was then red carded. Could the red card on Hoddersen been a way of evening the scores? I speculated on this and other aspects of the decision in my live audio commentary.

After the match, however, I consulted 2 experienced officials and both concluded independently that the red card decision was justified. The video of the foul is not the best angle, but multiple reviews as well as screen shots confirm that Hoddersen bent his knees inward and cut off the player’s jump. The still shot while grainy clearly shows Toro’s takeoff as behind Hoddersen’s legs. Did Toro dramatize the foul a bit and the extent of his injury? That’s quite possible, but in the end it doesn’t matter. The foul was for contact while a defenseless player is jumping and such a foul is grounds for a red card.

The impact of the Hoddersen red card was dramatic. Indeed, Hoddersen had scored 17 goals against Chile in the first match which the U.S. won 31-24. More importantly, Hoddersen had been Team USA’s most consistent player on offense and without his involvement on attack, the U.S. was more prone to turnovers. Repeatedly, I saw instances where his steady hand might very well have resulted in an eventual goal instead of a turnover.

While disappointing this Jr Team will have an opportunity for redemption next month when they take part in the IHF Continental Cup against Colombia, Guatemala and Martinique. Additionally, 5 of the athletes, Paul Skorupa, Sebastian Wheeler, Amar Amitovic, Nik Zarikos and Rene Ingram are young enough to participate in the Youth (U19) Championships which will take place in Chile also this April.

Video (1st half): Link

Video (2nd half): Link

Note:  Brazil won the gold medal match with a 31-23 victory over Argentina.  For more information on the tournament check the PHF website: Link

Live Video and Audio Links: USA vs Chile 3rd Place Match

Team USA celebrating their Group Play win over Chile.  The 2 teams meet again tonight to determine which nation will go to the World Championships.

Team USA celebrating their Group Play win over Chile. The 2 teams meet again tonight to determine which nation will go to the World Championships.

Team USA will take on Chile today for bronze and more importantly qualification for the Jr World Championships this summer in Algeria.  These two teams met in Group Play with the USA coming away with a 31-24 victory.  Both teams later qualified for the semifinals with the USA scoring a 25-23 victory over Uruguay while Chile dispatched tournament hosts Paraguay 36-24.  And, in the semifinals both teams lost by lopsided margins.  The USA lost to Argentina 31-22 while Chile was crushed by gold medal favorite Brazil, 30-11.

But, of course, all those results mean very little now.  It all comes down to this match for the USA and Chile.  The winner punches a ticket for the World Championships.  The loser starts preparing for 2019.

The Panamerican Handball Federation has been providing a video stream of all the action from Paraguay and tonight I am planning to provide some live audio commentary via the Mixlr website.  Feel free to listen in and provide your own comments/questions via the Mixlr chatroom or via twitter.

Live Video Feed: Link

Live Audio Commentary: Link

Podcast: USA Men’s Jr Team Coach discusses the PHF JR Championships

USA Men's Jr Team Coach Mark Ortega

USA Men’s Jr Team Coach Mark Ortega

Mark Ortega discusses the Men’s Jr Team’s performance so far at the Panamerican Jr Championships in Paraguay.  USA has completed group play with a loss to Brazil and a victory over Chile.  They will likely face Uruguay in a quarterfinal match on Thursday at 2130 Local/2030 EDST.

Live Video Feed: Link

Note:  At 141 feet above sea level there’s no altitude issue with Asuncion, Paraguay.  I “obviously” was thinking of its fellow landlocked neighbor, Bolivia where the capital La Paz tops out at 11,913 ft.  God forbid there’s ever a championship there.

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