Air Force and North Carolina met this past Saturday in a key collegiate team handball showdown that will certainly have implications on the Top 5 Collegiate Poll and seeding for the College National Championships.
Coming into the North Carolina was undefeated with an 11-0-0 overall record and a 5-0-0 record in collegiate competition. Winners of the Carolina Blue Cup and a #2 ranking. Meanwhile Air Force had been in and out of the Top 5 and a far less gaudy 2-0-11 record, arguably against tougher competition.
Earlier in the day North Carolina lost to Dallas THC, 29-23, meaning that the pool play match between the two teams would also likely see who would make the championship match.
The match started out competitively with Air Force taking a two goal lead in the first ten minutes. Gradually, though, Air Force started to pull away from Carolina. To stem the tide, North Carolina used a somewhat unique 7 vs 6 attack with GK, Jack Moore leaving the goal and essentially playing center back. This strategy had mixed results offensively and Air Force failed to fully capitalize on several empty net opportunities. Regardless Air Force was able to extend their lead to 12-6, before North Carolina went on a mini 3-1 to close out the half and limit Air Force to 13 – 9 halftime lead.
The second half featured more of the same with Air Force gradually extending their lead and North Carolina never really threatening to get back into the contest. Air Force’s peak lead was 25-15 and the final score was 26-18.
Air Force used a variety of defenses including a pressure man to man defense which prevented North Carolina from ever getting into a comfortable flow. This defense along with an outstanding performance by GK Austin Faulkner limited North Carolina to just 9 goals each half.
Speaking with North Carolina leading scorer, Aaron Hamm, after the match he highlighted that it was a well deserved win by Air Force, but that they missed having their #1 GK Jared Floyd, who couldn’t attend due to a family emergency.
Air Force team captain, Austin Faulkner was pleased with the Air Force performance noting that North Carolina had beaten Air Force last year at College Nationals and the win was a big confidence booster for the club.
Air Force has no more stateside competition prior to College Nationals, but most of the team is headed to the Netherlands over spring break for a training camp.
Air Force Scoring
Nathan Luther 6
Kyle Gruzka 5
Richard Vaughn 5
Quinton Riddle 3
Anthony Sanders 3
Mark Simpson 2
Tevin Miller 1
Brian Brown 1
North Carolina Scoring
Aaron Hamm 8
Philip Schwarte 4
Alex Laws 3
Jack Moore 2
Joe Reinhardt 1
Air Force 33 – 18 Air Force (2nd Team)
Dallas THC 28 – 20 Salt Lake City
North Carolina 30 – 24 Air Force (2nd Team)
Air Force 34 – 21 Salt Lake City
Dallas THC 29 – 23 North Carolina (Video Excerpt: Link)
Salt Lake City 27 – 26 Air Force (2nd Team)
Air Force 26 – North Carolina 18 (Video Excerpt: Link)
Dallas THC 36 – 22 Air Force (2nd Team)
Air Force – Dallas THC (Not Played)
North Carolina – Salt Lake City (Not Played)
Note: The last 2 pool play matches were not played since they would have been meaningless matches between the same teams that would later meet in the Championship and 3rd place games. Instead a friendly was played between the Air Force 2nd Team and North Carolina’s reserves.
North Carolina 25 – 20 Salt Lake City
Air Force 28 – 27 Dallas THC
This was an outstanding back and forth competitive match which saw tournament MVP, Nathan Luther score the decider in the closing seconds. Be sure to check out the video of last 8 minutes of the match: Video 1 Video 2
Top Scorer: Paul Assfalg: Dallas THC
Most Valuable Goalkeeper: Austin Faulkner
Most Valuable Player: Nathan Luther
Video of Awards Ceremony: Link