Jence Rhoads had a stellar basketball career at Vanderbilt University and then played hoops professionally in Iceland and Romania. But, in 2004, after her mother, Melinda Hale Rhoads, attended a reunion with her 84 Olympic Team Handball teammates she decided to take a road trip to Auburn, Alabama and tryout for the Women’s National Team. The tryout went well and she has been a key player for the Women’s side ever since.
Rhoads, however, says that it wasn’t an immediate decision to switch sports, “I went back and forth for a while, because I wasn’t sure I was done playing basketball, but the opportunity arose to start my Master’s. And, with the opportunity to continue playing a sport at a high level, particularly on a national team I decided to move to Auburn… Now here I am in Lima, Peru with my Doctoral degree.”
But, learning a new sport over the past four and half years has had its ups and downs, “It’s funny to think about myself five years ago as a young handball player and think about myself now and what I’ve gotten better at and what I still need to improve upon.”
One aspect of her game that she’s taken with her from basketball is her unselfish style of play. She notes that it receives a lot of praise, but also some criticism, “I don’t want to say it’s something that I struggle with because it’s sometimes a very good thing. Sometimes I maybe wait too long in the game to turn on an ‘attack mode.’ I have a tendency to try to get the play to develop and get everyone involved before I look for my own shot.”
Jence and her teammates are coming off a 3 week training camp in Europe where they played a lot of matches against different levels of competition in preparation for the PANAM Games. First up, on Wednesday night in Lima will be group favorites, Argentina, a team the U.S. hasn’t beaten in 20 years. They will then play the Dominican Republic on Thursday afternoon and then finish up Group Play vs hosts, Peru on Saturday.
Team USA is raring to go and ready for the challenge. Even at the prospect of facing world handball power, Brazil in a possible semifinal matchup, “I love those kind of games… That’s part of the reason why you play the sport. To have that chance to topple the giant.”
For more on Jence’s transition to handball, her experience playing professionally in Spain, the conditions on the ground in the athlete’s village and her perspective on their opponents Team USA will play in Group Play check out the podcast.