Former 16 Year Old Women’s National Team Player Contemplates a Return to Handball

Taylor Proctor on defense 5 years against Canada. She’s barely touched a handball since, but could immediately be an elite player on our national team. What does that say about our current program? And, should more resources be directed towards grass roots programs that can develop talent than can contribute to our national teams at age 16?

Taylor Proctor on defense 5 years ago against Canada. She’s barely touched a handball since, but could immediately be an elite player on our national team. What does that say about our current program? And, should more resources be directed towards grass roots programs that can develop talent capable of contributing to our national teams at age 16?

There’s a nice article on former senior Women’s USA Team Handball athlete Taylor Proctor on the University of San Francisco Basketball website.  Proctor, a 21 year old senior is averaging 22.9 points/game for the Dons and is currently the 9th leading scorer in NCAA Div 1. The article highlights her role 5 years ago in helping the U.S. Women come from behind to beat Canada and qualify for the 2011 PANAM Games.

Perhaps you’re now doing a little bit of mental math (as in 21-5 = 16 years old) and a little retrospective contemplation (the U.S. qualified for the 2011 PANAM Games, but failed in its 2015 attempt.) If you are, your reaction should be along the lines of:

“Really! Huh? Too bad we don’t have her still playing. What if she had continued playing handball and had roughly the same success that she’s had playing basketball at the collegiate level. Why maybe the U.S. would have qualified for the 2015 PANAM Games. Maybe a 6’, 21 year old might be signing a contract with a top European Club?”

Whoaa. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. It is truly amazing that a 16 year old could make some major contributions in a Senior Women’s Handball match, but it was against Canada, another struggling side in PATHF. And, it’s a bit of an assumption that NCAA Div I basketball success would equate to similar Team Handball success.

Regardless, if Proctor does forgo a post collegiate basketball career it could be a good news story for USA Team Handball. My personal opinion, is that 22 years of age is right on the edge of being too old for a residency program, but the fact that she’s had prior handball training tempers that a bit. Sure, it would be nicer to get a quality athlete like her at age 18, but it’s just not practical when a full college scholarship beckons.

But, the really big questions folks should be asking are:

  • What does it say about our current residency program if an athlete who’s barely touched a handball in 5 years could “walk on and already be an elite handball player in our program”?
  • What happened to the youth movement that seemed to be on track in 2010?
  • What are USA Team Handball’s strategic plans to facilitate the development of more athletes like Taylor Proctor (i.e. younger with real raw athletic talent)?

Here are some answers to those questions. The current women’s program is on life support. There are perhaps around 7 women athletes at Auburn training sporadically while the U.S. national team coach is living and coaching a lower level men’s club team in France. A recent national team tryout had zero female attendees. Just about any player with decent athletic talent would move very quickly up the U.S. depth chart.

What happened to the youth movement?  Only Sophie Fasold has played recently with the Women’s National Team.  She is currently playing for her club in Germany.  Kate Louthan is playing basketball at Colorado Christian University and Kiah Hicks is on the track team at Colorado State.  Morgan Thorkelsdottir was playing Club handball in Iceland in 2013, but I couldn’t confirm her current status.  Stephanie Hesser led the U.S. National Team in scoring at the 2013 Pan American Championships, but couldn’t make the 2015 tournament roster.  Outside of Fasold the youngest player on the 2015 roster were 23 years of age and the average age of the roster was 28.5.  Essentially, there is no youth movement.

And, as far as I know, there are no strategic plans to facilitate the development of younger athletes. Instead, the focus for the past several years has been to develop a residency program for national team athletes. And, then to recruit athletes as best we can to populate the program. This has resulted in the program being populated mostly with marginal, older athletes, some in their mid to late 20s. Essentially, an austere pyramid tip has been created for a virtually non-existent base.  You can decide for yourself whether resources (funding and man-hours) expended the past few years towards a residency program have been worthwhile or whether they might have been better spent towards programs like the Colorado Landsharks.  Programs that might still be producing some new talent instead of having closed up shop.

I would speculate, however, that it’s not all doom and gloom. The 2016 Olympics are just around the corner and recruiting should pick up. Hopefully, it will pick up enough so that USA Team Handball can attract some high quality athletes that are still relatively young enough to develop into quality handball players. Players that could then play overseas with a professional club to further develop their game.

And, maybe, just maybe some folks in charge will finally start to take a more critical look at the glaring disconnect between grass roots and national team efforts. And, come to the obvious conclusion that more thought and effort ought to be expended toward creating and sustaining clubs like the Colorado Landsharks/Dynamo. Clubs that found and developed talented athletes in their teens that could make real contributions on the Senior Women’s Team. Why if that were done we might even have a few more Taylor Proctor’s out there ready to join a Residency Program when their collegiate basketball careers are over.

Article highlighting youth contributions to Senior Women’s team back in 2010: Link