Podcast: Team USA and Aulnay’s Julia Taylor (Part 2): Reflections on Different Training Environments

Julia Taylor’s handball development journey has seen stops in a collegiate program, an overseas residency, a U.S. based residency and now an overseas club. Arguably, no U.S. player has ever experienced it all quite like the way she has.

Julia Taylor’s handball development journey has seen stops in a collegiate program, an overseas residency, a U.S. based residency and now an overseas club.  Arguably, no U.S. player has ever experience it all like the way she has.

In part 2 of my interview with Julia Taylor we discuss the different training environments that we experienced as handball players.  Both Julia and I played in college, participated in a U.S. National Residency Program and played overseas.  Julia’s overseas club experience is at a much higher level and she also spent a semester at the Aarhus Academy in Denmark.

The different topics we tackle include

  • The lack of collegiate competition, particularly on the women’s side
  • Whether a residency program should focus on national team prep or preparing individual athletes for overseas opportunities
  • Division 1 athlete crossover recruitment and training
  • Challenges and rewards of playing with a European Club

Here are some links regarding some of the topics discussed:

Collegiate Handball Commentaries:
– Overview of College Handball Challenges: Link
Success at UNC and possible implementation steps to further develop the college game:Link

Foreign Based Residency Program
– Aarhus Academy Website: Link
– Aarhus Academy Podcast Interview: Link
– Commentary on European Based Residency Program: Link

U.S. Based Residency Program Commentaries
– Commentary on shifting to development: Link
– Recruiting Challenges: Link

This podcast episode was sponsored by Hummel.  Check out their Handball Portal for sales in the U.S. and Canada.

If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

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Podcast: Team USA and Aulnay’s Julia Taylor (Part 1)

Team USA and Aulnay’s Julia Taylor

Julia Taylor, has been playing handball in 2010 for the University of North Carolina.  She is now a Left Wing on the USA Women’s National Team and for the Aulnay Handball Club in France.  In Part 1 of my interview with Julia we discuss how she started playing handball and the career path that led to her playing in France.  We also discuss the different tournaments that the U.S. Women have played this year including this past Summer’s Pan American Championships and the recent friendly tournament played in South Korea.

Links
UNC Handball: Link
Aarhus Academy: Link
Aulnay Handball: Link 

This podcast episode was sponsored by Hummel.  Chectk out their Handball Portal for sales in the U.S. and Canada.

 

If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

Or use this RSS Feed to sign up for the podcast in your favorite podcast aggregator: Link

The Next Olympic Hopeful: NBC with a Reality Show on Cross-Over Athletes: Handball not Included

The 8 athletes selected for NBC’s Next Olympic Hopeful. Rugby 7s, Bobsled, Skeleton and Track Cycling were the chosen sports. (Handball Not Included… this time around)

As previously reported, NBC was considering the possibility of a handball based reality show that would see former athletes in other sports try handball with the hopes of making the U.S. National Team and eventually the Olympics.  Unfortunately, the handball reality show has been shelved for the time being, but NBC and the USOC have given some air time to a similar concept: a scouting combine focused on identifying athletes for Rugby 7s, Boblsed, Skeleton and Track Cycling.

I saw the 2 hour show this past weekend and a rebroadcast is scheduled for the NBC Sports Network on Tuesday night at 8:30 PM ET.  90 athletes were identified for participation through multiple channels to include a partnership with 24 Hour Fitness.  Over 3 days the USOC conducted a series of physical tests to measure raw athlete performance, as well as introduce athletes to the basics of the sports involved.  These tryouts/sporting combines appeared to be somewhat similar to what USA Team Handball periodically conducts at Auburn.

As entertainment, I found the show lacking, as it’s pretty hard to manufacture much drama out of such tests of speed, strength and endurance.  Old timers might find it nostalgic as it takes place at the Olympic Training Center (OTC) in Colorado Springs, even if it’s hard to recognize the place.  About the only drama I found interesting were the end of the day conferences which featured coaches and representatives from each of the Sport NGBs discussing the athletes and in one instance trading a prospect from Rugby to Bobsled.  In the end 8 athletes were selected, 1 male and 1 female for each sport.

As to why handball wasn’t included, Mike Cavanaugh, the CEO of USA Team Handball indicated to me via email that just about every other NGB had asked the USOC the same question.  The USOC response was that they wanted to maximize the chance of success and that’s why the 4 sports, 3 of which are already medal producing were selected.  Indeed, one of the athletes chosen for Bobsled even has an outside chance for making the 2018 Olympic Team.

The good news is that the USOC is already planning for another edition in 2018. And, who knows, maybe the USOC and NBC will throw a bone to USA Team Handball and include Handball next time.  Interested hopefuls can apply here: Link

Summary of Results:  Korean Friendly Tournament

Kathy Darling and the U.S. Women had a solid performance at the Korean Friendly Tournament in Busan. Darling had 9 goals vs Danish Club Aalborg and was selected for the tournament all star team.

 

The USA Women recently participated in a friendly tournament hosted by South Korean Club, Busan BISCO.  Overall, they had a solid tournament, highlighted by two easy victories over Australia and Taiwan, as well as relatively competitive matches against Busan Bisco (S. Korea), Erd (Hungary) and EH Aalborg (Denmark).

USA Results

19 August Busan BISCO (S. Korea) 32, USA 19
Scoring: Jence Rhodes 5, Kathy Darling 4, Nicole Andersen 4, Liz Hartnett 2, Ashley Van Ryn 2, Shani Levinkind 1, Zoe Baird 1
Video: Link

20 August Erd (Hungary) 26, USA 17
Scoring: Kathy Darling 3, Nicole Andersen 3, Ashley Van Ryn 3, Jence Rhodes 2, Liz Hartnett 2, Ashley Butler 2, Zoe Baird 1, Lisa Dunn 1,
Video: Link

21 August EH Aalborg 23, USA 19 Video: Link
Scoring: Kathy Darling 9, Nicole Andersen 2, Sarah Gascon 2, Jence Rhodes 2, Julia Taylor 2, Zoe Baird 1, Shani Levinkind 1,
Video: Link

22 August USA 27, Australia 9
Video: Link

23 August USA 23, Taiwan 13
Video: Link

Note: If the video links don’t work for you, you may want to try different platforms and/or web browsers.  I couldn’t get them to work on my Chromebook for some reason, but had no problem with my Microsoft desktop.

Final Tournament Standings

 

Analysis

I’ve had an opportunity to view parts of all 5 matches, but I’ve focused primarily on the first 3 matches vs the club teams.  For the most part in those 3 matches the U.S. played pretty good defense.  Things got out of hand a bit while playing BISCO, but that was often due to fast break opportunities.  Sophie Fasold had an outstanding tournament with several saves helping to keep the U.S. in contact with its opposition.

The highlight, in my opinion, was their performance against Erd, the eventual tournament winner and 3rd best pro team in Hungary.  I wouldn’t classify them as an elite club team, but right below the highest tier with a few players on their roster also playing for their National Teams in Europe.  While the outcome of the match was never in doubt, the U.S. stayed within striking distance most of the match.  Yes, a moral victory, but a significant one if you compare it to the uncompetitive matches the U.S. played this past January against French Club sides with less pedigree than Erd.

This surprising performance had me thinking that they could beat EH Aalborg, which is an average team in Denmark’s 2nd Division.  Unlike Erd, the Danish club team features several young players and could be classified as mostly semi-professional.  Unfortunately, the U.S. did not have a particularly strong performance with turnovers and inconsistent play, losing 23-19.

Overall, I would assess this tournament as an improvement over their efforts this past June at the Pan American Championship.  In my opinion, if they had played this well in June they could have well secured 3rd place and World Championship Qualification.

Looking Ahead

The U.S. Women have no important qualification events until December, 2018 at the earliest.  At which point there will be several events related to Olympic and World Championship qualification.  Olympic qualification will start with PANAM Games Qualification, which will likely be 2 to 3 matches vs Canada and assuming that goes well the PANAM Games in late July/early August.  World Championship qualification should with a North American & Caribbean (NORCA) Championship in the spring followed by the Pan American Championships in June.

In the intervening time, I suspect the USA Women will try to play some friendly matches vs Puerto Rico and other Caribbean teams as well as a training camp in Europe.  This lean time could be problematic as a lack of residency program athletes and infrequent competition could see player skills atrophy.  I personally would like to see some players that have developed stateside head to Europe for more frequent and better competition.  Additionally, the U.S. can’t afford to lose any players as there is no real depth at any position.

I’ll have more to say on the current player pool and residency program recruiting in the coming weeks.

USA Women Participating in Friendly International Tourney in South Korea

Busan International Friendly Tournament: USA Women to take on 3 club teams and 2 national team sides.

The USA Women are in Busan, South Korea where they are 1 of 6 teams participating in an International Friendly Tournament.  Korean club teams are sponsored by companies and the Busan Infrastructure Corporation (BISCO) sponsors a club team that plays in Korea’s top league.  Other teams participating including ERD HC from Hungary, EH Aalborg from Denmark and the national teams from Taiwan and Australia.

Based on pedigree ERD and hosts BISCO should be the two top teams.  ERD HC placed 3rd in Hungary’s top league and qualified for the EHF Cup (Europe’s 2nd level competition below the Champions League).  EH Aalborg finished 7th last season in Denmark’s 2nd Division and should be a notch below those 2 teams.  As these clubs are professional or semi-professional they will likely present stiff competition for the U.S.

The two other national teams participating, Taiwan and Australia, however, should be teams the U.S. can match up with as neither side has performed particularly well recently in International competition.  Taiwan’s most recent Asian Championships appearance was in 2012 where they placed 7th out of 12 participants.  I’m not very familiar with Taiwan handball and it’s not clear as to why they haven’t participated since then.

Australia has been the dominant team in Oceania and regularly qualified for the World Championships until their automatic slot was eliminated in 2015.  That being said, they never won a match at the World Championships and often lost the 23rd place match to the weakest Pan American side participating.

The tournament is scheduled to take place over 5 days and will be a full round robin with 3 matches played daily.

USA Match Schedule (Korea is 13 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern Time)

Saturday, 19 Aug 1700 (Local) / 0400 ET USA vs Busan BISCO (South Korea)
Sunday, 20 Aug 1500 (Local) / 0200 ET USA vs ERD HC (Hungary)
Monday, 21 Aug 1300 (Local) / 0001 ET USA vs EH Aalborg (Denmark)
Tuesday, 22 Aug 1300 (Local) / 0001 ET USA vs Australia
Wednesday, 23 Aug 1400 (Local) / 0100 ET USA vs Taiwan

2017 Pan American Championships Review (Part 2): The Best Performance in Years- A Sign of Progress or More of the Same?

Which projected trend line makes more sense for the USA Women?

In Part 1, I provided a summary of the results, questioned some coaching decision and highlighted the average age of the women’s team.  In Part 2, I take a look at what this recent result portends for the future.

The Best Performance in Years.  The Beginning of an Upward Trajectory?

The 5th place finish at the 2017 Pan American Championships was the best performance since the women finished 4th in 2003.  In those intervening 14 years the results can only be described as disappointing with several “Did Not Qualifies” or near the basement finishes.

If we simply plot out these results one could possibly surmise that after 3.5 years of Residency Program training at Auburn the hard work is starting to pay off.  That things are looking up for Team USA and that if we were just to add a couple of more quality players we could soon challenge Argentina and Brazil for Pan American titles.

A Better Performance than 2015 (How Did that Happen?)

For sure the 2017 performance and final placement was way better than 2015’s 10th place flame out.  But, if you’ve been following the Women’s program it should have you scratching your head a bit as to how that happened.  Here’s why:

  • It’s essentially the same team, just a couple of years older. 10 players returned from the 2015 roster and while the U.S. added Nicole Andersen as a scoring threat they were missing Karoline Borg (2015’s leading scorer) due to injury.
  • Many of the players have been training in subpar circumstances. The U.S. still has a residency program, but I’ll diplomatically state that it hasn’t been very “robust” for the past 2 years.   Many players, and even the coach, departed Auburn in 2015, leaving just a handful of players to train in less than ideal circumstances.  Best I can tell the women’s roster featured only 4 players who had been training at Auburn, 4 U.S. based players that weren’t practicing regularly at all, 6 dual citizens and 1 stateside developed player practicing with a club team in France.  So, over half of the team wasn’t scrimmaging on a regular basis, let alone honing their play with regular competition.  And, I don’t care how hard you are working individually and in small groups, if you’re not playing 7 on 7 regularly you are not in a good training situation.
  • It continues a puzzling trend of better performances when the team isn’t practicing together on a regular basis. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of the residency program model, but I still think it should work better than nothing.  Bizarrely, however, that hasn’t been the case.  When the program was in full swing in Cortland, NY the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2007 PANAM Games.  Then four years later without the benefit of a program the team managed to qualify for the 2011 PANAM Games.  And, most recently in 2015 with a solid year of training, competing and living together as a group the U.S. Women failed to qualify for the PANAM Games and placed a disappointing 10th at the Pan American Championships.  And, now with essentially the same team they have their best performance since 2003.  Huh? Go figure.  The available data points even suggest that a robust residency program is somehow detrimental to performance.

How did it happen?  Answer:  Too few data points and a whole lot of parity

I’ll take a stab at answering my own question.  Here’s why the results look a little backwards:

  • The USA Women haven’t played enough competitive matches to establish a definitive trend. In terms of official tournaments the USA Women are pretty much limited to World Championship qualification tournaments every two years and Olympic qualification events every 4 years.  Teams don’t always perform on the same even keel and they can have good tourney and bad tourneys.  And, if you don’t have enough data points it’s hard to know what’s a fluke (bad or good) and what’s to be expected.  Personally, I think that the 2015 performance was on the bottom end of the scale and that 2017 might have been average.  Those are just educated guesses, though, because there’s just not enough games.
  • Once you get past Brazil and Argentina there’s a whole lot of parity in Pan America. If one looks at the results from the past few Pan America Championships and throws away Brazil, Argentina and the Central American entrant you’ll notice that the match scores between those teams are remarkably close. That the gap between the 3rd best team and the 11th best team isn’t very great.   It’s possible in any one tournament that a team can exceed expectations (Paraguay this year) or fail to meet expectations (USA in 2015).  Generally the best team wins, but luck, injuries, matchups, group placement all factor into the actual result.  Because these teams are so closely matched it doesn’t take much to have wild swings in performance.  Maybe some side will emerge to challenge Argentina, but right now it appears that teams are just taking turns in WC qualification.

And, keep in mind that for the past several World Championships that the 3rd or 4th place team which joins Argentina, Brazil (and sometimes Cuba) at the World Championship has been consistently non-competitive.  Puerto Rico was thrashed by double digits in all of its matches except its surprising win over Kazakhstan.  Argentina’s only victories were over Congo and Puerto Rico.  Cuba could only manage a win over the Congo.  Going to a WC is a great opportunity and experience, but right now and for the past several years it’s basically been a participation award.

What does it mean going forward?

Back in 2015 after the U.S. women failed to qualify for the PANAM Games and placed 10th place at the Pan American Championship I wrote a commentary that it was time to reassess the future of the Women’s Program and look for a new coach and a new High Performance Manager.   Well, needless to say if there was any assessment done by USA Team Handball, it concluded everything was just fine and that staying the course was the best option going forward.  And, if that’s what was decided in 2015 with totally disastrous results one can only assume that with better results now 2 years later it’s unlikely there will be any changes this time around.

So, if past is prologue one can assume similar results going forward the next few years.  In 2015 several athletes left the Residency Program.  There have been periodic tryouts, but it has yet to repopulate the program there.  Best I can tell is that in the past 2 years the U.S. has added just one new stateside athlete to its player pool, 26 year old Maria Vallone.  That’s pretty dismal recruiting especially when one considers the publicity boost that the 2016 Olympic TV broadcasts should have provided.  And, while it’s always smart to take advantage of dual citizens competing in Europe, there’s only a small, finite number of such athletes available. Perhaps recruiting will start to pick up, but even if it does it’s hard to see any newcomers having a significant impact in time for the next series of qualification tournaments in 2019.

In terms of World Championship qualification the U.S. will get another crack at qualifying.  As discussed, if they play well they will have a shot at one of the 3 WC slots for Pan America.  For the Olympics there’s only one Pan American slot and that will go to the winner of the PANAM Games which will be staged in Lima, Peru.  Last time around the U.S. failed to qualify for the PANAM Games, losing a two game series to Uruguay. This time around the U.S. will play Canada and as they are an easier foe qualification for the final tournament is more likely, but by no means guaranteed.   And, of course, Brazil and to a much lesser extent Argentina will stand in the way of Olympic Qualification.

To sum up, not surprisingly, I pretty much see the U.S. Women getting similar results for the next couple of years.  We should qualify for the PANAM Games and with a bit of luck maybe we’ll see a WC qualification.  Hopefully, we’ll add a few more players that can contribute to the team for years to come.  I know such projections of mediocrity aren’t what people what to hear, but I just don’t see much right now to support a different conclusion.   And, as always, don’t interpret this to be a critique of the hard working, dedicated athletes making big sacrifices to represent the U.S. International competitions.  To a player they are all athletes that we can be proud of.

That sums up my review of the most recent qualification tournament.  In the coming weeks I’ll have a commentary that assesses the prospects for future Olympic qualification and whether a change in national team development strategy makes sense.

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti with a Reference to Team Handball on National TV/Radio:

Long Beach Arena: The planned venue for 2028 Olympic Handball

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti was interview on the Dan Patrick Radio Show yesterday and during the interview he referenced Team Handball
 
“If we just get over having 15,000 people watch team handball you can have 2-3 thousand in a great arena that probably exists in great cities and then you don’t have to build things.”
 
Essentially Mayor Garcetti was pointing out that big arenas are not really necessary for every sport. So, if cities aren’t expected to build so many arenas than more cities would sign up to bid. That being said, 2-3 thousand capacity, though, would under serve handball, even in the U.S.
 
Have no fear.  Handball is planned for the Long Beach Arena which has an 11,200 seat capacity for Ice Hockey and 13,600 for basketball.  For sure, not the fanciest arena in Southern California, but there should be plenty of seats available. More likely than not it will be one of the cheapest tickets available and should have decent crowds.  Many in attendance will be newcomers to the sport looking to attend an Olympic Event at a reasonable price.  This was the case in 1984 and to get a sense of that type of fan, watch actor Ty Burrell, the real estate agent father on Modern Family, talk about his family road trip to attend the Olympics when he was a kid.
 
Garcetti references handball around the 6 minute mark. Earlier in the interview he talks up funding for youth sports which he indicates will start be used next year.  Video: Link

Podcast: Americans Qualify for Olympic Handball for the First Time in Over 20 Years!***

American Samoa’s U17 Beach Handball Team: Headed to the Youth Olympic Games next summer in Argentina.

While this title sounds like epic news there are a few asterisks that have to be explained.  Still really great news, just not epic.

Asterisk #1:  The handball in question is “Beach Handball”
Asterisk #2:  The Olympics in question is the Youth Olympic Games
Asterisk #3:  The Americans in question are American Nationals from the U.S. Territory of American Samoa

Yes, the American Samoa Women’s U17 Beach Handball team has qualified for the Youth Olympic Games to be staged next summer in Argentina.  With only 55,000 inhabitants and, believe it or not, not enough sand on the islands to play beach handball properly, American Samoa was able to put together a team in a few short months to first win the Oceania championships and participate in the U17 Beach Handball Word Championships.  While they were beaten soundly by some of the game’s traditional powers they still qualified for the Youth Olympic Games by defeating Australia twice and thus securing the Oceania slot to the Youth Olympic Games.

To find out more about handball and beach handball in American Samoa I spoke with the U17 Women’s coach, Carl Sagapolutele Floor.  Carl fills me on the challenges of starting a handball program on a remote Pacific island, learning how to play beach handball without sand, and the road from no program to the Youth Olympic Games.

References:
Curt Flood (not to be confused with Carl Floor): Link
60 Minutes video on American Football in American Samoa: Link
American Samoa Handball Association Facebook Page:  Link

If you would like to advertise on the Team Handball News Podcast contact John Ryan at john.ryan@teamhandballnews.com

Subscribe to the Team Handball News Podcast in iTunes: Link

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2017 Pan American Championships Review (Part 1): Women Bounce Back to Take 5th; but Did Coaching Decisions Cost the U.S. a Chance at World Championship Qualification?

2017 Pan American Championships (The Numbers)

Tournament Review

Heading into the tournament I assessed (as did probably anyone else who follows Pan American Handball) that it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that Brazil and Argentina would take 1st and 2nd in the tournament.  True to form, both sides dominated their groups and waltzed to the final where Brazil again showed their total dominance with a 38 – 20 pasting of Argentina in the gold medal game.  Brazil is simply in a class by itself with no other team posing a serious threat.  Argentina has also created some separation between itself and the rest of Pan America, but it is at least conceivable that they could lose to another team besides Brazil.

As far as the prediction that at least 6 other sides had a legitimate shot at taking 3rd place it wasn’t too far off the mark.  I figured that Uruguay and Puerto Rico were the strongest of the little 6, but it was Paraguay that seized the opportunity and qualified for the World Championships.

The USA Women had their best Pan American Championship placement since 2003, finishing 5th overall in the field of 10 teams.  The tournament started out poorly for the U.S. as they were first blitzed 42-10 by Brazil and then suffered a 29-25 goal loss to Puerto Rico.  They rebounded after an off day with a 31-17 victory against Colombia and then saw Paraguay beat Puerto Rico giving them a chance to qualify for the semifinals with their last Group Play game against Paraguay.  The U.S. needed a 5 goal victory to advance, but ended up battling from behind most of the game to an eventual 29-25 loss.

To the U.S. Women’s credit they didn’t hang their heads, but finished the tournament strong in consolation play.  They first had a relatively easy 27-20 win over Chile and then got some revenge against Puerto Rico (27-26) to finish up in 5th place.

The team had some solid individual performances.  Kathy Darling led the team in scoring with 30 goals.  It’s clear that playing in France has helped her understand how to best maximize her size and strength advantage.  Sarah Gascon played a key role on defense and as a utility player on offense.  Together, those 2 veterans continue to provide leadership for the team when some (myself included) would have figured they would have been retired from international play a few years ago.

Nicole Andersen, just 20 years old, added some very welcome scoring punch in the backcourt.  Jence Rhoads has developed into a solid center back and did a good job of distributing the ball.  Wings Julia Taylor and Zoe Lombard were reliable scorers on the wing and fast break.  Finally, Sophie Fasold had a good tournament in goal and her steady play helped keep the U.S. in contact with the opposition when the score might have gone further south.

All in all, this is a team that from all appearances stuck together through some tough situations.  No superstars, just some hard nosed women battling together and playing to the best of their abilities.  Coach Christian Latulippe deserves credit for bringing them together as a group despite just a couple of opportunities for the team to train together prior to the tournament.  And, for keeping them motivated to finish strong in consolation play.

Official Tournament Website: Link

 

Now here’s some further reflection on the Women’s Team performance and future. (Yeah, time for some analysis that’s less warm and fuzzy.)

The Importance of Goal Differential and Some Very Debatable Coaching Decisions

While finishing 5th is our best performance in years I can’t help but think that a semifinals berth and a chance to play for World Championship Qualification was well within reach for the taking.  It’s easy to sit back in the comfort of your own home and yell at the screen, but not so easy to make the actual decisions.  But, one thing I kept yelling over and over was:

“OMG.  Please stop playing with 7 offensive players and no goalie!  It’s not going to work… Can’t you see that it’s not working. Put your goalie back in.  Just stop it. Stop it.”

Don’t get me wrong.  I actually love the 7 player offensive strategy and the dynamic it has added to the game since being introduced last summer.  Why, I even wrote a nice ode to Belgium’s use of it against France.  With the right team and the right situation it’s a strategy that should be implemented more often than it is by risk adverse coaches.  It speeds up the game, creates more possessions and can help a team catch up quicker.

While it arguably may have been the right situation at times to implement, the USA Women, quite frankly just don’t have the right personnel.  They are too prone to turnovers on offense and they don’t have the team speed.  The USA Women, as currently constituted, play better when the game is at a slower pace and they can set up defensively.  Doesn’t mean they can’t fast break, just means that it needs to be done when the opportunity presents itself in a controlled manner.

The U.S. used this 7 vs 6 strategy towards the end of the Puerto Rico match and it resulted in a couple of empty net goals for Puerto Rico.  Maybe, it was a wash, but my assessment is that it didn’t really help the U.S. offense that much and it took away the opportunity for the U.S. to shut down Puerto Rico defensively.  In the end I think it cost the U.S. a few goals and turned a 1 or 2 goal loss into a 4 goal loss.  And, that 4 goal deficit would later have a huge impact in that it necessitated a 5 goal victory vs Paraguay instead of perhaps 2 or 3 goal margin.

In the Paraguay match the U.S. used the 7 player strategy pretty much the entire game.  I counted 3 empty net goals and 3 empty net misses (whew).  Again, I don’t think it helped that much on offense and that the strategy played right into the hands of the quicker and younger Paraguay team.  Further, the U.S. decided to defensively mark Paraguay’s Center Back most of the game.  This had the effect of the U.S. essentially playing 5 vs 5 handball defensively against Paraguay.  While Paraguay’s Center Back is a quality player it was pretty clear to me that the other 5 players were more than able to compensate for her absence.  This is because the smaller, quicker Paraguay team had more room along the 9 meter line to operate and score on breakthroughs.  Honestly, the hallmark for the women the past decade or so has been their solid 6-0 defense.  It’s a wall that hardly anyone in Pan America can shoot over and requires a lot of side to side movement for the offense to find holes that can be penetrated.  And, if you turn a 6-0 defense into a 5-0 defense those holes just get bigger.

Combined, the 7 player offensive strategy and the defensive marking really played up Paraguay’s strengths and the U.S. weaknesses.  Again, it’s easy to Monday morning quarterback, but I would love to see the U.S. play Paraguay straight up and see what happens.  Unfortunately, we likely won’t get that opportunity for another 2 years.

USA vs Paraguay:  Video Link

Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number (A Very Important Number)

I’ve written on numerous occasions that for the past several years the U.S. Women’s teams have been populated with far too many athletes that are mismatched in terms of age and technical skills.  That essentially we have a developmental team that runs the risk of losing too many players due to “life issues” prior to them becoming world class athletes on a competitive national team.  Here’s a closer look at some of those age numbers.

  • U.S. Side Gets Younger (with the help of Dual Citizens). I’m pleased to report that the U.S. actually fielded a team with a younger roster (26.9) than it has had at the previous 2 Pan American Championships.  The caveat, however, is that this is due to the addition of some dual citizens.   Nicole Andersen (20) and Ashley Butler (19) not only bring that average down, they also have potential.  As with any player, they may or may not pan out in terms of further development, but time is on their side.
  • Our Comparative Rivals are Still Quite a Bit Younger. The average age of the Paraguay and Puerto Rico rosters were 22.8 and 23.4, respectively.  Again, who knows which players will pan out, but time is on our rivals’ side.  Brazil is around the same age, but their older players are also full time professionals.

So, that’s a top level overview.  In part 2, I’ll take a big picture view and assess whether this “better” performance can be interpreted as a sign of progress.

Can the USA Qualify for the Semifinals?  Yes, the Math Allows it, but Can the Team Meet the Challenge.

Team USA picks up their first win vs Colombia. A 5 goal win tomorrow vs Paraguay would let them sneak into the semifinals.

Earlier this evening Team USA got the exact results they were looking for.  First, they took care of business easily beating Colombia 31-17 to pick up their first win in the tournament.  The U.S. played their most complete game playing solid defense and scoring readily on the fast break.  Then afterwards, Paraguay handed Puerto Rico its first loss of the tournament to set up a possible 3 way tie on points for 2nd place in Group A.

Assuming Brazil beats Puerto Rico tomorrow, Puerto Rico will finish with 4 points.  And, if the U.S. can muster a win over Paraguay tomorrow, both Paraguay and the U.S. will also have 4 points.  And, those 3 teams in head to head competition will each have 2 points a piece with 1 win and 1 loss, meaning that tiebreakers will come into play.

Here’s the current standings.

Head to Head Standings (Current)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD GF GA
Paraguay 1 0 0 2 4 28 24
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
USA 0 1 0 0 -4 25 29

First the simple math:  If Paraguay wins or draws with the U.S. it’s all over.  Paraguay takes 2nd place.

But, here’s the more complicated math and the possible scenarios.  Keep in mind Puerto Rico is done as far as this head to head competition goes since they’ve already played their matches against the U.S. and Paraguay.

The first tie breaker is head to head goal differential

USA wins by 5 (or more)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD
USA (Qualifies for SF) 1 1 0 2 1
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0
Paraguay 1 1 0 2 -1
USA wins by 3 (or less)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD
Paraguay (Qualifies for SF) 1 1 0 2 1
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0
USA 1 1 0 2 -1

If, however, the USA were to win by 4 goals, there would be a tied Goal Differential, meaning the next tiebreaker, Total goals head to head would break the tie.

USA wins by 4 exactly and scores 29 (or more)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD GF GA
USA (Qualifies) 1 1 0 2 0 54 54
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
Paraguay 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
USA wins by 4 exactly and scores 27 (or less)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD GF GA
Puerto Rico (Qualifies) 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
USA 1 1 0 2 0 52 52
Paraguay 1 1 0 2 0 51 51

And, finally, if the U.S. were to win by the score of 28-24, there would be a tie in total head to head goals

USA wins by 4 exactly and scores 28 (exactly)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD GF GA
USA 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
Paraguay (Qualifies) 1 1 0 2 0 52 52

And, while you might think that Paraguay would drop out since they can’t match the 53 total goals, that’s not how the tiebreakers work.  Even if a tie is just between two teams the other teams don’t drop out, but continue to the next tie breaker which Goal Differential in all matches where Paraguay has a sizable lead.

Forget the Math Lesson, Can the USA win by 5 goals tomorrow?

Well, the answer to that question really depends on which USA team shows up tomorrow.  If it’s the team that got run out of the building by Brazil 42-10 the answer is clearly no way.  If it’s the team that was inconsistent against Puerto Rico, again, no chance.  But, if it’s the team that played solidly earlier today against Colombia, there’s a chance. Sure, Paraguay is a better side than Colombia, but the Paraguay team I saw today against Puerto Rico, while athletic is pretty young and inexperienced.  Their set offense is anything but fluid and a solid defense effort could fluster Paraguay and create some turnovers and fast break opportunities.  Create a little lead that could be expanded upon.  The U.S. has dug themselves in a bit of a whole, but it’s possible they could dig their way out.  Game time tomorrow is 1330 ET.

Preview and Analysis: Women’s Pan American Championships

USA Women celebrating their 2nd Place NORCA result. Can they take 3rd and qualify for the World Championships at the Pan American Championships?

The Women’s Pan American Championships start on Sunday with 10 nations from North, Central and South America participating.  This tournament held every two years also serves as the qualification for the World Championships and the top 3 teams will be awarded tickets to the 2015 in Germany.

Analysis

It’s a real good bet that perennial favorites Brazil and Argentina will each win their groups, win their semifinal matches and then play each other in the final.  Brazil will then be favored, but with the home crowd Argentina might have a shot of an upset.  But, thanks to Cuba’s decision to not participate in the tournament that battle for third place could be real interesting and at least 6 teams can realistically talk about making the semifinals and taking the 3rd World Championships qualification slot.

I’m a huge fan of the website fivethirtyeight.com and their statistical projections for a variety of sports.  The model they use relies on past results, but because there simply are not enough matches between the teams involved it wouldn’t make sense to run it through their algorithm.  That being said, here’s my assessment based on relevant recent results for each team reaching the semifinals and qualifying for the World Championships (3rd Place or higher)

Group A Make Semifinals WC Qualification (3rd place)
Brazil >99+% >99+%
Puerto Rico 40% 20%
USA 30% 15%
Paraguay 25% 10%
Colombia 5% 2%

Group B

Group B Make Semifinals WC Qualification (3rd Place)
Argentina >99+% >99+%
Uruguay 50% 25%
Chile 30% 18%
Dominican Republic 20% 10%
Guatemala  <1%  <1%

 

U.S. Prospects

It’s a bit of déjà vu for the U.S. as the situation for the 2017 Championships somewhat mirrors what took place in 2015.  In 2015, the U.S. performed well at the North American & Caribbean (NORCA) Championships and we’re given a favorable draw that set the table for them to qualify for the World Championships.  Alas, that didn’t happen as Greenland and Puerto Rico, two teams the U.S. had beaten at NORCA turned the tables on the U.S. and they ended up finishing in a disappointing 10th place.

Now two years later the U.S. has had another strong performance at NORCA, winning all their group play matches and just narrowly losing in the final to hosts, Puerto Rico.  And, the draw is again favorable with all of their group matches winnable with the exception of its first opponent, Brazil.  For the USA, its 2nd match of the tournament against Puerto Rico will be pivotal.  A win there will put one foot in the door to the semifinals.  On paper, the U.S. and Puerto Rico are very evenly matched having split their last 4 matches in qualification competitions with no side winning by more than 4 goals.  I give Puerto Rico the edge as they stepped up in 2015 to take the last qualification spot available, but the U.S. surely can field some confidence having beaten Puerto Rico recently in Puerto Rico.  Also, not to be dismissed is Paraguay which beat the USA 23-20 in 2015 and played Puerto Rico close, losing 33-29.  Even Colombia, which hasn’t played recently in qualification events shouldn’t be discounted.

In the other pool, Uruguay is the favorite having beaten Chile twice in 2015 competitions and having placed 3rd at the 2015 PANAM Games.  They also beat the U.S. twice in the 2015 Last Chance Qualification matches and had a convincing 21-15 victory over the U.S. in a friendly match played just this past Thursday.  It would be a sweet, sweet revenge opportunity for the U.S. should they meet in a 3rd place bronze medal game, but let’s don’t get ahead of ourselves.  There’s a lot of handball to be played in the coming week.

Results from Recent PHF Competitions

2017 NORCA Championships
April 3 (Gold Medal) Puerto Rico 28, USA 27
March 30 (Group Play) USA 28, Puerto Rico 26

2015 PANAM Games Qualification
March 7 Uruguay 30, USA 25
March 14 Uruguay 24, USA 22

2015 Pan American Championships
May 22 Paraguay 25, USA 24
May 23 Puerto Rico 23, USA 20
May 24 Puerto Rico 33, Paraguay 29

2015 NORCA Championships
April 2 (Group Play) USA 33, Puerto Rico 29

 

USA Women’s Schedule

Sunday, 18 June USA vs Brazil 1915 (Local), 1815 (ET)
Monday, 19 June USA vs Puerto Rico 1330 (Local), 1230 (ET)
Tuesday, 20 June <Day Off>
Wednesday, 21 June USA vs Colombia 1500 (Local), 1400 (ET)
Thursday, 22 June USA vs Paraguay 1430 (Local), 1330 (ET)
Friday, 23 June <Day Off>
Saturday, 24 June <Semifinals>
Sunday, 25 June <Placement Match>

Official Tournament website: Link

Live Streaming

All of the matches will be live streamed by TyC Sports in Argentina.  If the quality of the video matches what was recently provided for the Argentina – USA friendly match, fans around the world are in for a real treat.

TyC Sports Play: Link

USA Falls to Argentina 33-20 in Preparatory Friendly Match

USA’s Kathy Darling draws a crowd as she shoots on goal vs Argentina

Argentina beat the United States, 33-20, yesterday in a friendly match yesterday in Buenos Aires.  Argentina, the second or third best team in Pan America (behind Brazil and possibly Cuba) dominated the match from the start building a comfortable 7-2 lead in the first 12 minutes.  This lead was gradually extended and the last 5 minutes of the first half got a little ragged with the U.S. playing down 2 players following a debatable Red Card decision given to Team Captain, Sarah Gascon for a foul on wing shot.  The score at the half was 20-10.

The second half was a more even affair as both teams liberally substituted and both coaches experimented with different combinations of players.  The U.S. clamped down on defense and the second half scoreline was a more respectable 13-10.

Overall, the U.S. offense looked more structured and organized than it has in the past.  Argentina played fairly aggressive on defense, coming out high to disrupt the USA offense, but for the most part Team USA did a decent job of controlling the ball, limiting turnovers and resultant fast breaks.  The U.S. 6-0 defense, however, traditionally a strong point for the U.S., was not as effective as it has been in the past.  Argentina was able to consistent break down the U.S. defense for breakthroughs and wing shots.

With the liberal substitution the U.S. scoring was very balanced with 4 players (Kathy Darling, Sarah Gascon, Ashley Butler and Jence Rhoads) scoring 3 goals apiece. Anja Borg and Shani Levinkind added 2 each, and 4 players (Julia Taylor, Ashley Van Ryn, Nicole Andersen and Elizabeth Hartnett) scoring one.

The U.S. plays another friendly match vs Uruguay today and plays its first match of the official tournament against Brazil on Sunday.

On Demand Video of match: Link (Note: TyC’s video quality is outstanding.  If that’s the video quality we’ll see for the tournament, we’re in for a great remote viewing experience)

USA – Argentina Friendly Match Available Live on Direct TV, Fubo TV and Roku

Tonight’s USA-Argentina match can be seen on U.S. TV

The USA Women are in Argentina for the 2017 Women’s Pan American Handball Championships.  The actual tournament doesn’t start until Sunday, but they are playing friendly matches in preparation.  Tonight they have a tall order as they take on Tournament hosts Argentina at 2100 hrs (local) and 20:00 hrs (ET in the U.S).  The U.S. played the Argentina Junior Team to a 27-27 draw earlier in the week, so surely the Sr team will offer stiffer competition.  And, as this could be a potential tournament semifinal Argentina may very well want to send a message to the U.S. side.

The match will be broadcast live by Argentina sports channel TyC which in our ever more connected world is actually available in the U.S.   Here are your viewing options:

Direct TV:  If you have Direct TV (and an international package) you can watch the match on Channel #469.

Fubo TV:   Fubo TV is a digital streaming platform perhaps best known for soccer, but it’s also now rapidly becoming the best option for handball fans in the U.S. as it also carries beIN Sports and Eleven Sports.  And, not just the beIN sports TV channels, but their digital channels as well, which was the only way to watch the IHF World Championships and EHF Champions League live in the U.S.  Eleven Sports is another newcomer on the scene and they’ve already signed up to broadcast the European Handball Championships later this month.

Roku / Amazon Fire / Apple TV:  Another benefit of Fubo TV is that it can also watch it on TV via your connected device (e.g. Roku).  This can be done by first adding the Fubo TV channel to your Roku and then logging in with your Fubo TV account information.  (It took me a couple of minutes so you don’t want to wait till match time.)

Fubo TV offers a free 7 day trial so it won’t cost you to see how well it works with your computer and/or TV.

Fubo TV Trial sign up: Link