Interview with the Kras Volendam Women’s Head Coach, Mark Ortega

Kras Volendam Women’s Head Coach, Mark Ortega (Photo: Jaap van der Pijll)

The following interview was conducted by Dutch club KRAS Volendam

The USA national team is going to the World ChampionshipsAn in-depth interview with Mark Ortega/Coach of KRAS Volendam ladies

Recently the USA Men’s National Handball team has been invited to participate in the World Championships. Normally this news would not have a great impact on HV KRAS/Volendam, but this season we feel the effect due to our American trainer Mark Ortega and players Alex Binderis and Christine Mansour.

How many games will the USA win at the World Championships?

“The USA has never won a game at the World Championships. I predict we will win at least two, but more importantly we will show our growth as a handball team and as a nation.”

Team USA made it to the World Championships. The world doesn’t really know much about this. Tell us about the journey?

“The last three to four years Team USA has made some huge leaps. This is a combination of various factors. The last few USA Junior National teams have had some recent success on the international stage. Due to the new IHF developing Nations Tournaments. The last four years the USA Men’s Junior National team has qualified for the IHF Developing Nations Final, which has led to the Junior National team qualifying for the Junior World Championships in Spain (2019). There’s also a new program developed where the USA Handball players (both male and female) are placed at high level clubs in Europe. FCH (Forum Handball Club) started this program with a selected group of athletes and coaches and currently contains approximately 10 athletes and one coaches. In my perspective the IHF, FCH and EHF are all doing their part to see the USA Handball develop. From creating high level youth and junior tournaments to creating programs designed specifically for player and coach development, allowing these players and coach to be part of major clubs throughout the world. It’s easy to see that we, Team USA, are on the fast track to possibly bring our national teams to a higher level. I’m excited to see this new development.

On a personal level HV KRAS/Volendam has seen this as an opportunity and jumped on board. It’s great to work with a club that sees things in advance and isn’t afraid of anything abnormal within the handball world.” 

What’s your role at HV KRAS/Volendam and for Team USA and how does this combination work?

“My role at HV KRAS/Volendam is a combination between creating a stable women’s handball foundation for HV KRAS/Volendam and working on the development of the Team USA handball. 

It’s a challenge for me as fulltime trainer/coach for our Ladies first team. But the club gives me enough space to combine my daily work with the position as USA assistant within the men’s National Team. I’ve been the assistant there for the past six years and have been responsible for many aspects regarding the development of the team. For example, I’ve worked as the full-time residence coach in Auburn for the past five years, Alabama, USA. Where I’ve had the privilege of working with five-time Olympian Javier Garcia Cuesta helping develop USA players. Most of the players in the residency program were ‘late starters’ of the game, many football or basketball players. Ty Reed is one of those players who started in Auburn and now plays in Flensburg, Germany. But I’ve also recruited high level athletes and dual citizens for the USA national team, which is not easy. Without any funding and only being able to talk about what if… what if… scenarios, to recruit players. Players such as Ian Hueter, Patrick Hueter and Domajoj Srsen have heard my talk of what the USA National team can do and it’s great seeing them get a chance to participate in a World Championships early in their career. These players have dual citizenship and respectfully played or have played in the top leagues in Europe.” 

Team USA and HV KRAS/Volendam don’t seem to be a logical match? Can you tell me if there is a match?

“HV KRAS/Volendam and Team USA are actually much alike. The fit is obvious in regard to the players and coaching levels. The club is still emerging in the league and is trying to develop players at various skill levels, just like our national team programs. Coaching handball in the USA is not considered the highest level throughout the world and you have to develop players with various skill levels and mindsets. The same goes at HV KRAS/Volendam. An emerging club with large differences in skill level and mindset between the players. As a trainer I work with developing the talent that is at hand. That’s a different way of creating impact and improving skill sets to when you ‘just buy’ pro players and work on a team. HV KRAS/Volendam has amateurs with highly skilled talents. You have to know how to reach each one of them to impact them all.”

“I have to say that I’m thankful for HV KRAS/Volendam’s work. They made this opportunity possible for me. You have to be able to look outside of the box to give an American an opportunity like this. It says a lot about their direction and vision as a club. To broaden the program and impact for Team USA we need more clubs who are willing and able to facilitate like HV KRAS/Volendam does. In the end HV KRAS/Volendam’s investment for the future will give them a unique position within the handball world.

They have also given me the opportunity to complete my IHF Master Coaching Course via the Spanish association. In February I’m expected to receive my EHF Master Coaching course/Pro License. This EHF license will make me the first American born coach to have the necessary license to legally coach Pro teams and National teams at EHF and IHF official competitions. I’m very proud of this.”

Alex Binderis is also at HV KRAS/Volendam. Could you tell us something about him?

Alex has a unique story. As a younger player he participated in some of Sweden’s National team development programs. As the years went by Alex and his family continued to follow the USA National team. At the age of 19 Alex and his brother Max decided to try and join the USA National team. Both have seen recent success participating in IHF Developing Nations Tournaments. Alex was invited to join the FCH program last year and Volendam answered the call. After playing many years on different Swedish teams Alex is not only fulfilling his dream to play as a professional but also fulfilling his Dad’s dream for Alex to be a professional handball player in the Europe’s top league. 

We take it you’ve had some influence in the arrival of Christine Mansour as well.

“We were able to invite her this year to join HV KRAS/Volendam to train and compete with the women’s teams. The interesting thing about Christine is that she’s never played indoor handball before; however, Christine is the best beach handball player for Team USA and her potential is enormous. Even with the Covid outbreak Christine is making enormous steps to becoming a better all-round handball player. I expect her, when we start again, to play an important role. Again HV KRAS/Volendam thinks out-of-the-box and gets it done. A great development for USA team handball.”

What is your direction and drive for handball? 

“Handball has been a central part of my development for the past 17 years. I understand with our sport that sacrifice is needed a lot. I learned this as a player and expect this mentality from my players. I also realized in my career as a player that if I was on the court it was important to find players that were better than me. You have to test yourself and commit to getting better. My wife and two kids moved to Volendam as part of our sacrifice and commitment to our goal of becoming a better coach and representative for the USA.”

What are your plans for the future?

“Recently, I resigned as the assistant to the National team coach to concentrate on representing the athletes on the Board of directors of USATH. Being in the Netherlands and seeing what goes on in the management of the club I’ve come to realize that we can make huge strides in the development of USA team handball, both on management and board level. Since I stepped down from my position as assistant coach of Team USA, I’ve been elected to represent the athletes on the board of Team USA. Seeing what happens behind the scenes at HV KRAS/Volendam gave me the insight to make this move and get more involved directly with all the athletes. My goal will be to help all athletes’, men and women, to find the road helping them succeed. This is a role long needed within the USA as American athletes don’t have a contact person to whom they can go whatever their playing level. And I would like to be that person. My goal is to develop new programs, similar to our program at HV KRAS/Volendam. This would give athletes more opportunities to play and develop.” 

Athletes first, seems to be your message.

“Being a head coach in the Dutch Women’s first league now opens a new and wide road of development for coaching. Being an American coach in Europe means many eyes will be on me, and that attention will help the USA gain more possibilities. I hope my path will give more athletes and coaches inspiration to keep pursuing their handball goals. Christine, Alex and I have a great situation in Volendam, and we proved that it’s possible. We hope we can continue to contribute to the development of the HV KRAS/Volendam program and our ideas about life and handball are really similar. Let’s keep this movement going.

We’ve also been busy contributing to the development of new handball players around the World via my personal YouTube channel. I try to cater to a specific demographic group of adults who have never played handball before but want to learn the sport. Of course, we use my players at HV KRAS/Volendam. Check out the link: