Sorry… I Can’t Get Very Excited about Eclectic Mercenary Team Victories at the IHF Super Globe

San Francisco CalHeat recently picked up the first ever USA and North American club victory in IHF Super Globe history as they took down the University of Queensland, the Oceania representive, 27-22. This was celebrated on the IHF and USA Team Handball websites as an historic first ever victory. Is it still historic if only a handful of the atletes are American citizens and only 1/3 of the athletes on the roster live anywhere near San Francisco? Maybe… but I can’t get very excited about it.

Before I explain fully why I feel that way I think it’s appropriate to identify a few caveats and a few realizations that I’m a bit of an old timer hyprocite. Here they are:

  • I doubt that SF CalHeat and several other U.S. clubs are breaking any IHF, NACHC or USA Team Handball regulations. (Maybe those regulations should be changed, but that’s a whole other issue.)
  • Boosting club prospects by bringing in mercenary athletes from other locales is nothing new. I’ve even done it myself, inlcluding the 2004 USA National Championships when I played for the Atlanta based Condors while I was living in France. (CalHeat is taking this practice, however, to new extremes)
  • I don’t blame athletes for jumping at the opportunity to play in an IHF Super Globe. Heck, I wonder how crazy recruitment would have gotten back in my day if a similar opportunity had existed.
  • A critique of this mercenary team doesn’t denigrate great CalHeat initiatives like their support to youth development

So with these caveats out of the way let’s take a deep dive into the roster

The SF CalHeat 2023 IHF Super Globe Roster

The information below was compiled from the official IHF Super Globe roster, IHF Super Globe stats, social media accounts, google searches and other sources. I’m not 100% certain as to where everyone lives and there might be some errors. (Translation: everything you find on the internet isn’t always accurate)

  • Left Wings
    • Jorge Prieto, Spanish, 3/8 shots <Lives in Spain, plays for CB Torrelavega>
    • Mikio Tada, Japanese, 1/4 shots <Lives in SF Bay Area>
    • Drew Bradley, American, 0/3 shots <Lives in SF Bay Area>
  • Left Backs
    • Ole Olsen, Norwegian, 13/34 shots <Lives in Norway, attended SF State for a semester>
    • Hjalte Clausen, Danish, 1/3 shots <Lives in Minnesota>
    • Max Paulus, German, 1/1 shots <Lives in SF Bay Area>
  • Center Backs
    • Eloy Rubio, Spanish, 6/16 shots < Lives in Spain, previously lived in SF Bay Area>
    • Kasper Ogendahl, Danish, 9/17 shots <Lives in SF Bay Area>
  • Righ Backs
    • Felix Raff, German, 22/42 shots <Lives in Germany, Plays for HSG Leinfelden-Echterdingen
    • Daniel Eggert, Danish, 7/13 shots <Lives in Germany>
  • Right Wings
    • Paul Assfalg, German, 7/11 shots <Lives in Houston>
    • Yannick Te Morsche, German, 0/4 shots <Lives in Germany, Plays for TuS Lintfort>
  • Circle Runners
    • Drew Donlin, American, 14/24 shots <Lives in Los Angeles>
    • Benjamin Geisser, Swiss, 10/17 shots <Lives in Switzerland, Played for St Otmar, now retired>
    • Jonathan Garcia, American, 2/3 shots <Lives in SF Bay Area>
  • Goalkeepers
    • Lucas Kroger, German, 22/92, saves <Lives in Germany, Lived in Miami previously>
    • Fredrik Jacobsen, Norwegian, 25/61 saves <Lives in Norway, Attended Cal Berkeley>
    • Mohamed Balti, American, 1/21 saves <Lives in SF Bay Area>


Here are some takeaways from this roster

  • 22% (4 of 18) athletes have American citizenship. Complaints that some U.S. clubs have too many expats on their roster are nothing new. And, the U.S. is not the only country where this is a concern. German national team coaches have complained that there are too many foreigners on HBL rosters and that this is limiting the development of German athletes. Why even Kielce, who CalHeat played in group play, has just 47% with Polish citizenship on their roster. That said… Kielce is a professional team. I doubt very much that lower level, amateur clubs in Poland have rosters with a high percentage of foreign athletes.
  • 33% (6 of 18) athletes live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Complaints that some U.S. clubs have only a limited connection to the city they claim to be from are also nothing new, but CalHeat has clearly taken this issue to a new extreme. While some athletes on the roster have a connection to San Francisco in that they lived there previously this is a tenuous connection at best. And, worse, I suspect that some athletes on the roster have never even set foot in San Francisco. Finally, for context… I’m guessing with a high degree of confidence that everyone on the Kielce roster lives in the Kielce area.
  • 14% (13 of 96) goals were scored by San Francisco Bay Area teams. I highlight this stat as a proxy for the relative contributions of the local athletes vs the merenary additions. It’s an imperfect proxy, but nonetheless it points to the reality that without mercenaries this club would likely have lost to Queensland and would have been really clobbered by the other clubs participating. Further, such a team would probably have lost to the clubs at the NACHC Club Championships and would not have qualified for the IHF Super Globe in the first place. I can’t say for sure as the rosters are flexible and there’s nothing that prevents clubs from other nations also bring in mercenaries of their own. Again… I don’t think anyone is breaking any rules.

Minimal Promotional Value and Unintended Consequences

There are some common refrains I often hear when I point out the problems with initiatives like this. The most common one I hear is along the lines of, “Yeah, it’s not perfect, but it’s important to promote handball in the U.S.” There is a kernel of truth to this… but, just a tiny kernel. That’s because the promotional value is so minimal. Maybe a 1,000 people in the U.S. (already handball fans) are even aware that a U.S. club is participating in an International club tournament. I guess if the goal is to give the world-wide handball community the impression that great progress is being made by having a “handball club from San Francisco” taking on the rest of the world… Well, you can fool some, but people are smarter than you think.

And, in this case the consequences are more than just inadequate promotion. Indeed, if the goal is to support handball development in countries like the U.S. the IHF Super Globe is actually having a negative effect. This is because good intentions (providing amateur clubs with a mostly paid for trip to take on the world’s best pros) has had the unintended consequence of super charging the incentive for amatuer clubs to boost their roster with mercenaries. While a club might prefer to simply go with the local athletes that practice with the club on a regular basis… if they really want to win they’ll need to expand their roster with athletes that have nothing to do with local development.

Addressing Mercenary Teams

Addressing “merencary teams” might seem rather straightforward, but it’s more complicated than you might think. Broadly, there are 2 ways of discouraging clubs from acquiring mercenary athletes:

  • 1) Legislate them away. Basically, this involves adding regulation requirements for citizenship and/or locality. Clubs in Europe have done this for many sports. Many countries had or still have rules that limit the number of American basketball players. Even handball has them as I know France limits the number of non-French citizens on lower level teams. Nationality enforcement can be done simply with a passport check. Locality restrictions, however are more challenging to determine and enforce. Years ago USA Team Handball tried to enforce this with athletes being requred to bring a utility bill with an address, but as I recall this was a short lived effort, probably due to enforcement challenges
  • 2) Make it financially challenging. Anyone who has played club handball in the U.S. knows that some clubs have regular season rosters that get boosted with new talent at the National Championships. This was because athletes would fly in (sometimes even from Europe) just for the one tournament that mattered each year. A requirement was then added for athletes to have played in at least one regular season tournament prior to nationals. The added cost of an extra trip tamped down on some mercenary participation, but didn’t eliminate it. I suspect that the recent addition of the Super Globe carrot has resulted in at least some athletes deciding it was still worth the cost to play with a team far away.

A Simple Solution: Change the IHF Super Globe to a Professional Club Only Event

While the U.S. could take steps to discourage mercenary teams it wouldn’t prevent other nations from doing so. And, while the IHF or the NACHC could theoretically step in with regulations that would discourage mercenary teams on a continental level enforcing those regulations would be challenging.

In fact, I’m not sure if there are any NACHC regulations regarding Super Globe qualification team rosters. I’m sure there are IHF regulations, but I suspect they are somewhat vague and/or loose in terms of requirements. How else could one explain the CalHeat roster?

I think the best solution would be to simply change the IHF Super Globe to a professional club only event. An event limited to continental federations with professional clubs. Clubs where all the athletes on the roster are are under contract for some TBD minimal amount.

And, then if the IHF wants to foster development in emerging nations like the U.S. they could support inititiatives that are focused on developing the sport. Because this initiative while well intentioned is clearly not having that effect.


PANAM Games Review: USA Men with a Solid Performance that Could have been a Little Bit Better… or a Little Bit Worse

With the 2021-24 Olympic Quadrennium now over for the USA Men here’s a review of the 2023 PANAM Games competition and a quick look ahead to the next Olympics

2023 PANAM Games Review

Group Play Results

  • USA – Argentina 14-28 (10-11)
  • USA – Cuba 30-28 (17-14)
  • USA – Uruguay 34-30 (19-15)

The U.S. started their tournament with maybe their best half performance of the competition vs the eventual champions, Argentina. They even had a 3 goal lead with 6 minutes left in the 1st half before Argentina woke up to take a 10-11 lead at the half. Then, arguably the U.S. played their worst half of the tournament as Argentina outscored them 3-17 the rest of the way. Their match against NORCA rivals, Cuba was a really tight affair and Cuba even led 27-28 with 3.5 minutes to go before the U.S. closed out the match with a 3 goal run to win 30-28. The match against Uruguay was close most of the 1st half, but the U.S. broke out of a 13-13 tie with a 6-2 run to create a 4 goal gap that was the eventual margin for the final scoreline of 34-30. So overall, the U.S. lost to the big favorite, but took care of business against Cuba and Uruguay to advance to the semifinals

Knockout Phase

  • Semifinal: USA – Brazil 27-40 (13-23)
  • 3rd Place: USA – Chile 27-28 (13-15)

I didn’t get to see these matches due to the PANAM Sports Channel’s decision to broadcast other sporting events taking place at the PANAM Games. I’ve no idea how that decsion was made, but it was truly disappointing because unlike most of the other competitions handball had an Olympic Games slot on the line. Based on the scorelines and the stats the match against heavily favored Brazil went according to expectations while the match vs Chile exceeded expectations as the U.S. took host team Chile down to the wire apparently missing a shot in the closing seconds to tie the match.

Individual Athlete Statistics: Link

Here are a few notes on some individual performances:

Wings: Sam Hoddersen and Sean Corning both had solid, consistent performances throughout the tounament. And, Hoddersen’s 13 goals on 16 shots vs Cuba is probably up there on the list of all time USA wing performances in an individual match

Backcourt: The U.S. struggled at times to get consistent scoring from all 3 backcourt positions. In particular, Abou Fofana’s shooting accuracy seemed to be either be on or off. When he was “on” and scoring on jump shots from 9-10 meters at a high percentage it changed the whole complexion of the U.S. offense, freeing up scoring options on the wing, circle and breakthough goals for the other backcourt players. But, when he was “off” it had a reverse effect as the team struggled to score in a set offense. Ian Huter, had a typical solid performance quarterbacking the team at centerback and Joey Stromberg, given his first real opportunity for extended playing time also played well at times.

Circle Runners: The tandem of Drew Donlin and Domagoj Srsen did a solid job of anchoring the defense, but Donlin’s shooting percentage of 60% (15 of 25) was significantly lower than than his 88% at the WC. Conversely, Srsen, who normally just plays defense was 7 for 7.

Goalkeepers: Both Merkovsky and Otterstrom had their moments, but their save percentages were lower than their World Championship performances and with the 5 U.S. opponents at the PANAM Games being weaker than the opposition at the World Championship expectations would have seen those percentages improve a bit.

The Key Missing Player: Not having Alex Chan on the roster was a big loss for the U.S. I think if he had been available the matches vs Cuba and Uruguay would have been more comfortable wins and maybe one more experienced backcourt option would have put the U.S. over the top in the bronze medal match.

Overall Assessment

Overall, it’s hard to be displeased with a 4th place finish. After all, it’s the best USA Men’s finish since the 2003 PANAM Games when the U.S. finished 3rd. And, while it’s hard to compare different eras, the teams the U.S. faced back in 2003 weren’t nearly as strong as the teams are today as Argentina and Brazil were just starting to improve to the level of play they have had for the last decade or so.

But, make no mistake… the U.S. is not to the level of Argentina and Brazil. Just as they did at the 2023 World Championships, the U.S. showed that they can compete with top teams, but the team lacks the depth and consistency to do so for a full 60 minutes. Beating a top tier team is now possible, but it’s perhaps around a 1 in 15 probability.

Conversely, the U.S. demonstrated that they are a notch above Uruguay and Cuba. Those matches, particularly, the one vs Cuba were closer than I would like, but in crunch time we took care of business. We didn’t beat ourselves and that’s a key step towards beating better teams in future competitions.

Finally, taking a team like Chile down to the wire on their home floor is a positive sign and a confirmation that the USA Men belong in the next rung below teams like Argentina and Brazil. Chile has qualified for the past 7 Handball World Championships and prior to the PATHF split to NORCA and SCAHC and the expansion of the WC to 32 teams they were the target team that had to be beaten to qualify for a WC. We are now at that level. The USA, thanks to an IHF decision granting us wild cards, doesn’t need to qualify for the 2025 and 2027 World Championships, but we clearly belong now anyway,

Looking Ahead to LA 2028

While most handball nations are constantly preparing their handball teams for the next event the U.S. has traditionally been very focused on Olympic competition. There are a number reasons for this different focus, but it’s primarily due to the increased emphasis on the Olympics in our country and the accompanying support from our Olympic Committee. In simple terms are Olympic Committee doesn’t really care much as to what happens in other competitions.

With Paris 2024 qualification now an impossiblity the focus turns to 2028 and the guaranteeed Olympic qualification that comes with it. And, although it’s 5 years away, I’ll just slightly modify what I’ve been saying for the past couple of years.

What I’ve been saying: We already know around 70-80% of the athletes who will make up our roster at the 2028 Olympics

What I’m saying now: We already know around 95% of the athletes who will make up our roster at the 2028 Olympics

In 2019 I took an in depth look at our National Team (Part 1 Part 2) and I’ll hopefully/eventually get around to an update, but there are probably just around 25-30 athletes with realistic prospects of making a 2028 roster. Basically, it’s the athletes on the roster for the PANAM Games and 2023 Sr World Championshps and a handful of prospects from our Jr and Youth teams). And, for the most part it will be dual citizens who by happenstance have provided us with a golden generation by American standards. While there are plenty of athletes who have played either none or very little handball with the raw talent to become great players they don’t have the time and/or structure to realistically get to the level needed to beat out the athletes in our current talent pool.

While we have a solid group of athletes that will hopefully continue to improve I think it’s going to be challenging, however, to see a jump to the next level; to a team that can beat a top team like Argentina or Brazil 50% of the time. This is because our top athletes are just a rung lower in quality, we lack team depth and while we have some quality up and coming players there are not enough of them to do more than simply replace the attrition we’ll likely see as some of our athletes age out.

In terms of how well we’re likely to do at the 2028 Olympics we’re in for some tough competition. In all likelihood the weakest team we’ll face will be the Asian representative. In 2020 that was Bahrain. In 2024 it will be Japan. A team we could beat, but right now would be favored against us. And, then the rest would be Africa (Egypt?), Pan-America (Argentina or Brazil?) and the best European teams. To make a quarterfinal would likely require beating an Asian team and a top 10 team, probably from Europe. Can we do that? Anything is possible. But, I will say this with a high degree of confidence: We’ll compete. We won’t embarrass…and I won’t be shocked if we really push a top team to an upset or near upset. But, we could lose every match too.

There are multiple ways to look at this situation. On the one hand we all want to dream of the U.S. standing on the medal stand. But, on the other hand… most of us have seen U.S. teams that haven’t been very competitive. Qualifying for and winning games at the World Championships seemed like a real stretch not too long ago. Ask me ten years ago if I’d take our current team and its recent performances and I would have said, “Absolutely” with zero hesitation.

And, if you had told me that we would have such a team to cheer on without having to spend a penny on an artificial residency program that does nothing to develop the grass roots in this country… I would have been overcome with joy.

Yes, overall we should count our lucky stars that we are where we are with our Men’s program because while it maybe could be a little bit better it could be whole lot worse.


2023 PANAM Games (USA Men’s Preview and Outlook)

The Men’s PANAM Games competition will start Monday, 30 October and here’s a closer look at the U.S. Men’s roster and the competition. Here’s the roster compiled from previous tournaments and a recent USA Team Handball post.

USA Men’s Roster

The PANAM Games allows only 14 athletes on the official roster which is more restrictive than other recent tournaments which allowed as many as 18 athletes and up to as many as 6 alternates which could also be activated and dressed. The PANAM Games does allow for 2 alternates, but there are more restrictions for activating them and significant addtional costs for them to travel. As such, my understanding is that the U.S. has chosen to have only 14 athletes travel to Chile.

With the smaller roster size this meant that the coaching staff likely had to make some tough choices on who to keep and leave off the roster. As I review the roster by position, I’ll note some of the athletes that made the 2023 World Championship roster that are missing.

Goalkeeper: Pal Merkovsky who plays in Hungary’s top division is the #1 GK and will likely get the bulk of the minutes. Doug Otterstrom will be his backup and this suggests that he has moved ahead of Rene Ingram and Nicolas Robinson as the #2 GK.

Left wing: Sam Hoddersen has been a consistent and reliable performer at left wing. At the 2023 WC he was the 2nd leading scorer for the U.S. with 21 goals on 30 attempts. Gary Hines is also listed as a left wing, but I think he may see more time in the back court. Left off the roster was Nik Zarikos and he was likely left off due to the roster limitations

Left Back: Abou Fofana is the primary big shooter and U.S. success might well rest on him having a good tournament and a higher shooting percentage than his 41% at the WC. Amar Amitovic will also likely see a lot more playing time with the smaller roster

Center Back: As usual, Ian Hueter will be conducting the offense, but with scoring options more limited in the backcourt he may need to look to score more. 17 year old Benjamin Edwards is a recent roster addition and it will be very interesting to see what he can contribute at his first senior men’s tournament. Having seen him play this past summer at both the U19 and U21 it’s clear his future is very bright, but playing against grown men will be a challenge. Sorely missed will be Alex Chan, who was the U.S. leading scoring at the 2023 World Championships. USA Team Handball had no comment in regard to his non-selection, but Chan communicated with me that he’s had some issues with Passport renewal. He’s an experienced player who was another real threat to score against top competition. Without that extra option it will be a little tougher for everyone else to score. And, it won’t just be the goals we’ll be missing as he was also an effective passer that made the players around him better.

Right Back: Joey Stromberg is the only true right back on the roster, and, at times he’s shown promise. But, for the most part in recent competition, Coach Hedin has chosen to go with a right hander, either Alex Chan or Gary Hines at this postion. With Chan unavailable, it’s a great opportunity for Stromberg to step up. And, regardless we’ll also likely see Hines here as well. Perhaps even McCauley as he’s played backcourt for the U19 and U21 teams some.

Right Wing: With veteran Ty Reed stepping away from handball, this position will now be filled by Max Binderis and Sean Corning. Both have shown they are capable, but I don’t know if there is a clear #1 at this position now

Circle Runner: The U.S. has 2 big men (Drew Donlin and Domagoj Srsen) in the middle available and they will anchor a solid U.S. defence. It would be even more solid with real depth, but both Patrick Hueter and Paul Skorupa will be unavailable due to injury. Donlin will likely be the primary option on offense, but Srsen and Maksim McCauley will also likely see time here.

The Opposition and U.S. Outlook

The U.S. is in Group B with Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay. Argentina is the clear favorite to win the group, but they are getting a little bit older and don’t seem quite as strong as they have been in the past. Star player, Diego Simonet has also struggled with injuries the past few seasons and has only played limited minutes this season with his club team Montpellier.

In all likelihood it should be a three team battle between the U.S., Cuba and Uruguay for 2nd place and a berth in the semifinals. The USA beat Cuba 32-28 at the 2022 NACHC Championship, but Cuba have improved since then, as demonstrated by their undefeated campaign at the 2023 Central American & Carribean Games. Uruguay had a disappointing 2023 WC campaign where they failed to win a match to finish 32 out of 32 teams. That said, they still have experienced players and won’t be an opponent to take lightly.

Something for NACHC fans to cheer for: The NACHC currently only receives 1 WC slot while the SCAHC receives 4 slots. Seems a little out of whack doesn’t it? Well, nothing would demonstrate that thought more than USA and Cuba victories over Uruguay (the 4th SCAHC slot team).

US Outlook?: Well, before I realized that Alex Chan would be unavailable I felt pretty good about a semifinal berth. The U.S. had shown it’s mettle at the WC beating other 2nd tier nations like Morocco and Belgium. Teams clearly better than Cuba and Uruguay. Why, it even seemed conceivable to think of a surprise upset over a somewhat weakend Argentina.

But, losing cogs (like Chan, P Hueter and Skorupa) in the wheel points to our lack of depth. We can still beat teams like Cuba and Uruguay… but, we’re no longer clear favorites to do so. Instead, I see a real dog fight and the U.S. will really need to stay healthy and have some players step it up yet another notch to make the semfinals. And, of course, it’s much harder to conceptualize a victory over stronger sides like Argentina or Brazil. But, then again, there’s a reason why the games are played on the court. The key is to make the semifinals at which point it will be a knockout tournament where in one match anything can happen.


U.S. Women’s National Team: What’s Next? (Part 1: Intro)

As the graphic indicates, since the 2019 PANAM Games the U.S. Women’s Sr National Team has not won a game in a major official competition. And, I’m not 100% sure, but I’m pretty sure we also haven’t won a friendly match either. Further, the scorelines have either been bad or downright ugly. We’re losing badly to peer nations (avg loss is 11 goals) in our hemisphere and getting totally clobbered (probably in the high 20s) by better competition. In short, over a two year period this has been the most uncompetitive team that the U.S. has ever fielded. The results starkly demonstrate this. It’s not even debatable.


All that said, let me very clear about the following:

  • I don’t blame the athletes. They’re doing the best that they can and most, if not all, have made ENORMOUS sacrifices to represent their country. And, often they are paying to do so out of their own pockets. We’re talking thousands of dollars.
  • I don’t blame the “coaching” that the coaches have done. A coach works with the athletes they have to help them perform the best they possibly can. I’ve seen quite a few matches. As bad as things have been… they could’ve been worse. There were opportunities for things to go totally off the rails, but they’ve managed to keep the team fighing and competing under very challenging circumstances.

Management (or a Lack of Management) is the Issue

Of course, this situation is disappointing to anyone that cares about handball in the United States. For some old timers it’s hard to wrap their heads around the reality that the U.S. is so uncompetitive. That it’s commonplace now for the U.S. to lose badly to nations that we used to easily beat without even breaking a sweat. Others look at a clearly more competitive U.S. Men’s team and wonder why the U.S. Women can’t simply duplicate their success.

These top level assessments are pretty simplistic, but they do point to straightforward management strategies that have either worked in the past or are working today. (Well, “worked” to some extent.) Unfortunately, while the Keep it Simple, Stupid (KISS) strategy is often a smart way to go… it’s just not in this case. There are multiple reasons why the U.S. Women’s program can’t simply roll back the clock or copy the U.S. men’s “strategy.”

I won’t get into all of the management issues in this introduction. Quite frankly, there are just too many to capture in one post. This is a complex problem with a lot of moving parts. Heck, it’s not even easy to define what the “problem” is exactly. Sure, we want our Women’s team to perform better. But, what does “better” mean exactly? How much better? What’s the timeframe? And, at what cost?

And, that gets to the crux of the matter. As a close observer of all things handball in the U.S., if any of these questions were considered and defined it has been done so very quietly. Certainly, no plan or strategy has been publicly articulated. It’s one thing to watch our national team get beaten, but know it’s part of a structured plan to get better. It’s another thing to watch and get the sense that I’m watching a team thrown together by happenstance based on whoever happened to be available from our very, very small talent pool.

Burning Questions

So, I’m certainly not going to get to all the answers with this introduction, but I’ll try to identify some questions that need to be answered. Questions that I’ll address in follow-on posts.

  • Partner Related Questions
    • Does the IHF have a minimum performance expectation for the U.S. Women’s team? (i.e. Would the IHF actually consider not awarding the U.S. a slot for the 2028 Olympics?)
    • What might the IHF contibute to improve U.S. National Team performance prospects?
    • Will the USOPC increase funding and support to impove U.S. National Team perfomance at a U.S. hosted Olympics?
  • Philosophical Questions
    • Should the U.S. implement “quick fix” solutions to improve national team performance?
      • If so, how much funding and resources should be diverted from grass roots related efforts?
    • If the U.S. switches to a focus on talent transfer athletes who’ve never played handball how should it communicate this to current handball athletes that have made significant sacrifices?
  • “Out of the Box” Questions
    • Could a reality style documentary help fund and support U.S. National Team efforts?
    • Does it make sense to have non USA Team Handball organizations address ways to improve U.S. National Team performance?
      • If so, how should these organizations coordinate with USA Team Handball and it’s partners like the IHF and USOPC?
  • Dual Citizen Focus Questions
    • Why have efforts to find and recruit talented dual citizen handball athletes for the U.S. Women fallen way short of the U.S. Men?
    • How coud efforts related to dual citizen utilization be ramped up?
  • Competitive Performance Related Questions
    • How do we best define performance levels or how “competitive” our national team is?
    • How do we best define the peformance level of individual athletes and their potential to improve over time?
    • What metrics should be used to quantify and assess performance?
    • Why is our currrent national team performing at it’s current level of competitiveness?
    • Given the current talent pool, how much can our team improve over time?
    • Given a group of high quality raw talent prospects what performance level could they achieve over time?
  • Athlete Development Program Questions (Note: whether it’s called a residency program, development center, academy, or some other name this refers to any special effort to identify and train athletes for national teams.)
    • How successful can these programs be at identifying and training athletes to be national team athletes?
    • What types of athletes should be targeted?
    • How quickly can they bring athletes up to speed?
    • How much will these different programs cost?
    • Where should these programs be located?
    • How should these programs be managed?

Podcast (Episode 81e): USA Team Handball Board Member, Ebiye Jeremy Udo-Udoma (AKA: The Handball Ninja)

At the Southern California Beach Handball Championships I interviewed National Team athlete and USA Team Handball Board Member, Ebiye, Udo-Udoma. Ebiye, who has adopted the moniker, the Handball Ninja is well known in the beach community, both domestically and internationally.

We discussed the tournament, the state of beach handball and the challenges of getting beach handball on the Olympic Program given the IOC’s athlete quota that limits a summer games to no more than 10,500 athletes. I then throw him a bit of a curveball question, in that given this quota and the greater chances a USA beach team would have to medal: Should USA Team Handball consider the possibility of taking actions that could lead to an IOC/LA 2028/USOPC/IHF decision to swap beach for the traditional indoor game at the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles?

The Handball Ninja on social media: IG FB Twitter TikTok


Podcast (Episode 81c): CalHeat and USA U19 Coach, Martin Bilello

CalHeat coach, Martin Bilello had a very busy handball summer, taking his CalHeat club to Partille and a tournament in Italy. He then coached the USA, U19 team at the World Championships and a mostly CalHeat Youth team at the Southern California Beach Handball Championships.

Here’s Grayson Wide’s Triple Save from the World Championships that we discussed: Great defense, and, at the same time… not so great defense


A closer look at the USA Men’s Jr (U21) World Handball Championships Roster

The U.S. Jr Men are in Germany and getting ready to take on the world at the 2023 IHF Men’s Jr Handball World Championships. They will be playing in Magdeburg in Group A where they will face Poland, France and Croatia in Preliminary Group Play. Their first match is tomorrow (Tuesday) and they will take on Poland at 1:15 PM local / 7:15 AM US ET. Matches are to be streamed on the IHF YouTube channel.

The team had a productive training camp in Hungary where they played 3 exhibition matches, losing to Veszprem’s U20 team (39-30), Kuwait (29-26) and Libya (32-26). While all 3 matches were losses the team played very well at times as the team gets familiar with new players and prepares for the matches that count.

Here’s a closer look at the U.S. Final Roster grouped in to different categories:

By nation (where these Americans first played handball)

First a note: These athletes are all Americans. As someone who lived in France for five years, I’ll restate what I’ve said many times before: Just because someone grows up in another country doesn’t make them less of an American. In fact, I’ve argued that in some respects it makes a person “more American” in that they’ve likely had to think more about what it means to be an American. (If one wants to read more on this topic check out these links: Link Link Link Link)

That said, I continue to be surprised by the quality and quantity of overseas American athletes that the USA Men have been able to draw upon in recent years. 14 athletes first learned to play handball in another country. And, 9 different countries to boot. Without these athletes the U.S. would struggle to be competitive and in all likelihood would never have qualified. Four athletes are U.S. based and first learned the game in college. Three from perennial top college power, West Point and one from runners up, North Carolina.

Athletes by Age

By definition a U21 team is young team, but this roster takes it a step further with 7 athletes that are eligible for double duty this summer on the U19 team that will take part in the Youth World Championships in August.

Athletes by Position

Here’s a few notes on each position:

Goalkeepers: Mattia Cercola was the All Star goalkeeper at the NORCA Youth Championships and Hashim Mahmoud was on the NORCA Jr team squad. Grayson Wide is new to the team

Left Wing: Evan Gordon was on the U.S. NORCA Jr Team and Oliver Edwards is new to the team and plays for a prominent Hungarian side, MOL Tatabanya

Left Back: Maksim McCauley is just 18 years old, but he’s already seen action with the U.S. Sr team and he was an all star at the NORCA Youth Championships. Neopomuk Grabner was also on the U.S. team at the NORCA youth Championships and was an alternate on the U.S. Sr Team for the 2023 World Championships. Markus Ole Strommen is new to the team

Center Back: Elliot Robertson was named the MVP of the NORCA Jr Championships. Matisse Walker and Benjamin Edwards are new to the team.

Right Back: Mark Miller was on the NORCA Jr Team and is a Junior at West Point. Tristan Morawski was the All Star Right back at the NORCA Youth Championships

Right Wing: Both Gary Phillips and Loic Karrer were on the NORCA Jr Team. Phillips was a recruited QB at West Point and has been playing handball for less than a year. I would also assess him to be the best stateside handball prospect since Gary Hines.

Circle Runner: Both Samuel Proctor (West Point) and Connor Reed (North Carolina) were on the NORCA Jr Team. Daniel Hunyadi is new to the team and reportedly has been a big contributor for the team in preparatory matches.


The U.S. was dealt a very challenging preliminary group and it’s unlikely they will avoid finishing 4th. That said, this appears to be a side with potential that will likely improve as the tournament progresses and should pick up some wins in the President’s Cup.


  • IHF Competition Page: Link
  • Tournament Website: Link
  • Wikipedia Page: Link
  • Streaming: Link
  • Odds (Bet MGM): Link (Yes, there are lines on these matches)


A Closer Look at the 2023 USA Women’s NORCA Roster

The USA has released it’s roster for the upcoming 2023 NORCA Women’s Handball Championship that starts this Monday, in Nuuk, Greenland. The USA will face off against Greenland, Cuba, Canada and Mexico and the winner of the tournament will qualify for the 2023 IHF Women’s World Champions this December in Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

Here’s the roster from youngest to oldest

Unlike the U.S. men, the U.S. women’s roster is more evenly split between Americans who first played the sport stateside (11) vs another country (7). And, remarkably (for this old timer, anyway) 3 of those athletes are Juniors that first played the game in Mexico. This would have been inconceivable not too long ago and it speaks well of the development of the sport in that country.

The other interesting dynamic is that while the roster has a typical average age of 27, only a few athletes are near that age. Instead, it’s very top heavy at the two ends of the spectrum: younger, but inexperienced and experienced, but older.

Here’s a schematic of how the the team might setup on offense. I say “might” because there’s some new athletes, some athletes that haven’t played in a while and a fair amount of guesswork involved.

Goalkeeper: Sophie Fasold plays for Vfl Oldenburg in Germany’s top division and is the clear #1 GK. Wheeler and Malysz will likely alternate as her backup.

Left wing: Julia Taylor and Maria Vallone are both experienced veterans and will probably share time. Vallone had an ACL injury and this will be her first official competition since the 2019 PANAM Games. Meanwhile, Taylor has often been pressed into the backcourt for the U.S. where she has been a bit out of position so she may be looking forward to a tournament where she primarily plays at the wing. It will also be interesting to see how newcomer, Ariane Clerc performs after a season playing for Reims-Champagne in France.

Left Back: Long time veteran Kathy Darling can still be an imposing force in the backcourt, but at 41 years of age 4 games of round robin play in 5 days may be a real test of stamina. Zarinna Monroy represented the U.S. at the 2022 Jr World Championships and will also likely see time at left back.

Center Back: A lot of guesswork here, but I suspect Daisy Licea may be the best option for the U.S. at center back. Last year playing for the Jr Women’s team she was at times the key player thanks to a combination of quickness and aggressive play to get the ball moving and the defense out of their comfort zone

Right Back: More guesswork… Liz Hartnett will play here and I won’t be surprised if Ashley Butler also sees significant minutes. Butler, however, is a big question mark as she hasn’t played for the U.S. since the 2019 PANAM Games.

The Unknown Backcourts: I know next to nothing about these three athletes: Laisha Martinez, Cedar Bellows and Katie Timmerman. Martinez plays in Mexico, Bellows has represented the U.S. in Beach Handball and Timmerman recently completed her collegiate basketball career at D2 Concordia University, Irvine.

Right Wing: Butler and Cangas-Perez should share time here. Cangas-Perez, is originally from Cuba and has played for the Inter Miami club team and Rogue in USA club competitions.

Circle Runner: Sarah Gascon is the veteran here and the other options are relative newcomers, Payton McCarthy and Taylee Tellechea. McCarthy plays for Ohio St and having played pivot for a short time I was impressed with her play at college nationals. Tellechea has previously represented the U.S. in beach handball, but is pretty new to indoor handball.


The U.S. Women’s Sr National Team has not had much success of late as it hasn’t won a match in official competition since the 2019 PANAM Games. Part of the blame can be laid on COVID and limited opportunities to play, but fundamentally the U.S. has a very small pool of athletes to draw upon. And, by small we’re talking less than 150 U.S. Passport holding handball playing athletes world-wide.

Based on recent results (a two match series versus Canada last November) and a winless 2021 NORCA Championship the U.S. seems likely to go winless again and place 5th in this 5 team competition. That said, matches are decided on the court. Not on paper, based on past results. The U.S. has also had several training camps, have added some new players and the gap in talent to sides like Canada and Mexico is not overwhelming. If the U.S. can get some productive scoring from its backcourt players and play tough on defense wins against those teams are possible and would be a good sign of progress.

In terms of the overall tournament I suspect it will come down to the hosts, Greenland, and Cuba facing off in the Gold medal match with a World Championship berth on the line. Based on the 2018 Men’s PATHF Bronze Medal Match also held in Nuuk, also with a World Championship berth on the line that should be something to see with a full house of fans cheering on the home team.

The tournament starts today (Monday) with Cuba taking on Mexico and Greenland playing Canada. The U.S. starts their campaign on Tuesday with a match vs Canada at 3:30 PM US ET.

2023 College Nationals Preview

The 2023 USA Team Handball National Championships throw off Friday at 3:00 PM US ET at the Heminger Center on the campus of Tiffin University in Tiffin, Ohio. Twelve Men’s and 4 Women’s teams will be competing with matches taking place on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Here’s a brief overview of the event:

Women’s Championship

The four women’s teams participating West Point’s 1st and 2nd teams, Ohio St and North Carolina. (The 1st team is identified as West Point-Black and the 2nd team is West Point-Gold). The four teams will first play a round robin which will be used to seed the teams for a knockout tournament with the Final being played on Sunday at 12 noon.

The teams are familiar foes as they are the same teams that participated in last year’s championships and they have already played each other several times this season. West Point-Black hasn’t lost to the other sides this season and is a strong favorite to defend their title.

Men’s Championships

Twelve Men’s teams will take part in the tournament and they have been drawn into four groups of three teams. The top two teams from each group will advance to the knockout tournament while the 3rd place teams will play in a consolation round robin group. Here’s a quick summary of the groups:

Note: West Point, Ohio St and North Carolina each have 2 team participating and a (1st) or (2nd) is used to initially define which is the designated 1st and 2nd team

  • Group A: Air Force, Tar Heels (2nd), SUNY Cortland: Air Force is the favorite to win the group with the Tar Heels likely to take second. Cortland is a brand new club playing in their first tournament so they will be looking to learn from these opening matches.
  • Group B: Ohio St-Scarlet (1st), West Point-Gold (2nd), Cincinnati: Ohio St-Scarlet narrowly lost to West Point’s 1st team in the championship match so they are the clear favorite to win the group. That said, they probably won’t want to overlook West Point-Gold which is the most competitive 2nd team in college handball. Cincinnati has not played Ohio St close this season so they are the likely 3rd place team
  • Group C: West Point-Black (1st), Ohio St-Gray (2nd), Auburn. Having won 14 straight titles it’s hard not to see West Point taking 1st place. Ohio St-Gray and Auburn will battle for 2nd place
  • Group D: Carolina (1st), Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) and Miami (OH): Carolina took 3rd place last year and is the favorite here. CWRU and Miami are relative newcomers and will face off for 2nd

U21 Players to Watch: 6 athletes represented the U.S. at the 2022 North American & Caribbean Handball Confederation Jr Championships (U21) where the U.S. finished 2nd and qualified for the World Championships this summer. Those athletes are

  • Charlie Harper, Left Back, Ohio St-Scarlet,#43
  • Mark Miller, Right Back, West Point-Black, #9
  • Gary Phillips, Right Wing, West Point-Black, #11
  • Samuel Proctor, Pivot, West Point-Black, #15


  • Web Streaming: Link
  • Men’s Competition Page: Link
  • Women’s Competition Page: Link

Two Handball Championships in Sweden Separated by 30 Years (Part 2): From 0% to 83% Dual Citizens- Does that Matter?

The 1993 World Championship team. 100% stateside raised Americans. There were 2 European based Americans, however, that attended our training camp, but didn’t make the squad. Oh, how times have changed… big time.

In Part 1, I took a whimsical look back at the 1993 USA World Championship team. This time I take a closer look at the composition of the squad and how we’ve gone from zero dual citizens to a roster that is around 80% comprised of Americans who first learned handball in another country. And why it doesn’t matter and, at the same time matters a lot.

Some Disclaimers

First things first… let’s getting something out of the way that I think I shouldn’t even have to. And, that’s a clear cut statement that just because I’m discussing the role of dual citizens on our national doesn’t mean that I think they shouldn’t be playing for Team USA. That is simply not the case. The more the merrier. The best American handball athletes should always make a USA Sr National Team roster.

And, it sure doesn’t mean that I think they are “second class” Americans or something moronic like that. In fact, having lived in France for five years that experience has led me to believe that in many respects an American living abroad is in some ways actually more “American” than a stateside American. For sure, they’ve likely thought more about their nationality and what it means than someone living comfortably in a sea of fellow citizens.

Finally, I think it also goes without saying that if you care about the development of handball in the United States you should really care about where the best American handball athletes are coming from. Because if only a handful of stateside based athletes can make a national team roster or even get invited to a training camp… it’s a very, very clear indication that handball in the U.S. needs better stateside development. That doesn’t mean you don’t cheer on the team… Just means you should be concerned with what it means to the bigger picture.

A Brief History of Dual Citizens playing for Team USA

Dual citizens, playing for the U.S. National Team is nothing new. In fact, in the very early days I think there might have been some foreign nationals residing in the U.S. that hadn’t even obtained U.S. citizenship playing for the U.S. Regardless, the U.S. took advantage of recent immigrants with handball experience to both start the initial development of the sport and to represent the U.S. in international competition.

Over time, however, U.S. sides became almost exclusively Americans that had lived in the U.S. their entire lives and had to be introduced to the sport. The primary exception usually were goalkeepers, but eventually even this highly specialized position started to see more stateside Americans earn roster spots.

When I played regularly in the 80s and 90s I knew of only two dual citizens that represented the U.S. Terje Vatne from Norway played backcourt and Mark Schmocker from Switzerland who played on our 1996 Olympic Team. Periodically, from time to time there were dual citizens that tried out for the team, but to my knowledge none of them made the team or chose to move to the U.S. (more on that later)

In the 2000s more dual citizens started to make U.S. rosters. Adam El Zoghby comes to mind as one of our early additions, but as we progressed through the 2010s to the 2020s this trickle eventually turned into a full fledged flood. The key turning point was 2018. In May of that year the U.S. finished 5th out 6 teams at the North American & Caribbean Championships. The team had only 2 dual citizen, including a 20 year old Sam Hoddersen who led the team in scoring playing out of position at center back. Just four months later, the U.S. had a new coach, Robert Hedin, and a few more dual citizens playing. With a backcourt trio of Ian Huter, Abou Fofana and Gary Hines they easily outclassed a Canadian side the U.S. had lost to in May. And, from that tournament on it’s been a steady progression of more and more dual citizens on the roster up to the 2023 World Championships where 20 of the 24 athletes seeing playing time were dual citizens.

The 1993 WC Training Camp

To further illustrate how things have changed I’ll share my own brief experience with a couple of dual citizens that tried out for the 1993 World Championship Team. Prior to the World Championships the U.S. National Team traveled to Finland for a two week training camp at the Finnish Olympic Training Center.

To be clear this “National Team” was also a “Residency Team” that was training together full time at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. And, as the name implies not only training together, but also, with a few exceptions, living on the same floor in a dormitory environment. Such a situation inevitably creates a pretty tight team comparable in some respects to what one might experience in a military style boot camp. You practice together, you eat together, you watch TV together, you go out together at night. It’s very similar to the team environment an athlete experiences at a major tournament… except year round.

So, when we were told that two guys who we knew nothing about would be participating at our training camp the reaction was one of malaise, particularly for anyone who might not make the team. On the one hand our team clearly lacked depth and an athlete that could genuinely help us would be a nice addition. But, on the other hand, did we want to see one of our buddies get sent home after months and months of training together? Of course, not, but anyone who has ever tried out for a team understands that not making the cut sometimes is part of the process.

The two newcomers were from Norway and Sweden and they were decent players. (Note, after 30 years I don’t remember their names.) The Norwegian was a back court player with good skills, but was pretty young (~17) and just wasn’t ready to play with adults. The Swede was in his mid 20’s and a fairly accomplished Center Back. He had a slight build and wasn’t as good of athlete as the two athletes playing the bulk of the minutes at CB, but he was a good passer with a lot of experience. He wouldn’t have started, but possibly could have come off the bench depending on the circumstance. His making the team wouldn’t have resulted in cutting either of our two Center Backs, but would have instead taken a roster sport from some athletes training with us who were very new to handball.

In the end neither athlete made the final roster. I’m not sure what Coach Voitech Mares thought process was, but I suspect he assessed that the marginal benefit they would have provided was not worth disrupting the team’s cohesiveness. Yes, the old curse that sometimes requires an athlete trying out to not “just be a little bit better” than their competition, but “substantially better” came into play here. In the history of sports this situation has occurred for a number of reasons from contract cost, to age, even to race when the NCAA and NBA had unofficial limits on the number of African American they would have on their teams.

The Dynamics of a Residency Team Concept and National Team Selection

So, some folks might be shaking their head at the prospect of the best available athletes not making the team. But, one has to keep in mind what the U.S. was trying to accomplish then and at other times when the residency team concept was employed. The goal wasn’t to win now, but to try and develop a team that could win at some point in the future. Giving a roster spot to a dual citizen who wasn’t training with the team or willing to move to the U.S. to start training with the team was taking a spot from someone that was. Temporary benefit at the expense of potential long term gain.

And, this non-selection strategy wasn’t just reserved for dual citizens. At times stateside Americans who were playing in Europe were also excluded. I was gob smacked to learn recently that my 1993 WC teammate and current USA Asst Coach, Darrick Heath had not been on our 1995 WC team. The reason? He was playing professionally in Europe and his club would not release him early to come back to the U.S. to train. Yes, arguably our best player was denied a roster slot because our coach wanted him practicing with the team more. No wonder we only finished one spot higher, 15th in 1995. More recently at different times in his career, Gary Hines was not even contacted for his availability for some national team events. And, we’re not talking 38 year old Gary… we’re talking a much younger Gary in his prime.

The Demise of the Residency Team Concept?

For the past 15 years or so I have been a pretty vocal critic of the residency team concept. I’ve written several commentaries about why it never ever worked very well and why it’s even more unlikely to succeed today. I won’t rehash them all again. If you want you can read them here: link

But, regardless what one might think or believe about the merits of a residency team the quantity and quality of dual citizens the U.S. now has available for our Men’s National Team has rendered the question/debate moot. I guess we could spend a small fortune establishing a residency program, but what would be the point? If we could get the necessary funds (a big if), could find and convince quality athletes to participate (another big if), it would be a long, long road for them to even earn a roster spot with this current team. (yet, another big if) Seriously, just imagine the recruiting pitch to someone who’s never played GK before regarding what it will take to eventually get a roster spot. Such a pitch could only be successful if you have the morals of Representative George Santos.

Come Again? Why Did the U.S. have Residency Programs in the First Place?

Well, I can see how someone relatively new to handball or just a top level precursory understanding of U.S. sports structure would ask this question… The answer is quite simple.

Without a residency program of some sort, historically the U.S. would have struggled to even field a team, let alone a competitive team.

The reality is that handball is played by only around 500 to 1,000 people in the United States… and a sizable percentage of this 1,000 aren’t even American citizens. These commentaries from 2019 outline the demographics and are are representative of our current status. It might even be a little worse since COVID likely caused a retraction.

And, now that we don’t have a residency program I can state unequivocally that had the U.S. been forced to field a team without dual citizens we would never have qualified for the 2023 World Championships. We wouldn’t have even come close. I would assess that such a team would have finished last at the recent NACHC championships and would have lost every match by double digits to Greenland, Cuba and Mexico. Our U21 and U19 teams which recently qualified for the World Championships this summer would have also not qualified, but probably could have mustered a win against other very inexperienced teams.

Trading One “Artificial” Solution for Another

In some respects, the U.S. has simply traded one artificial solution (residency programs) for another (a team mostly comprised of dual citizens). Artificial in the sense that both solutions essential paper over the reality that there is very, very limited grass roots development in the U.S. The sort of grass roots that would help make handball a sport that mattered in the U.S. Real development that would have Americans playing the sport from coast to coast and athletes eventually making national teams the traditional way through schools and clubs, continuously playing at higher levels until they reach the top of the pyramid.

And, let’s be clear this is the development that everyone in the world-wide handball community really wants. It’s awesome to have a competitive team to cheer on, but it’s comical to hear or read commentary that sees the U.S. team pick up some wins and conclude that the U.S. is really developing handball now. Because while that may happen it’s certainly not happening yet.

And, while one might think that a competitive national team could help spur development stateside, the U.S. still has not figured out how to break into the national consciousness. Stateside there’s been very little buzz beyond our small handball community as ESPN has once again inexplicably done nothing to promote handball on its streaming platform.

A Really Good Deal

But, while a roster heavily dependent on dual citizens is an artificial solution that doesn’t really help stateside development it’s still a really good deal. And, this is primarily because dual citizens basically cost nothing to develop as those costs are paid by other nations and the clubs they play for. The U.S. can basically run this current national team as if it were a hidden little country in Europe, holding training camps periodically to help these individuals gel as a team. For a cash strapped federation with very little money it’s hard to fully quantify just what a really good deal that is. Well, you sort of can. Take all that money and time that would have been spent on a residency program over the next five years… and think of all the ways that money can now be spent on grass roots development.

And, make no mistake: without these athletes some sort of residency program would have to be developed. Why? Because we simply could not be competitive without one and the IHF will want to see a competitive team taking the floor in Los Angeles in 2028. It’s not clear how much funding would be available for such an effort, but some percentage of the overall budget would continuously be sucked into it. Otherwise… we might not be allowed to field a team at the Olympics, even if we are the hosts.

A Golden Generation

But, the U.S. didn’t just get a good deal. No, we pretty much have hit the jackpot with this current crop of dual citizens. I’ve hemmed and hawed a bit about whether it’s a “Golden Generation” but, not anymore. The depth in terms of quantity and quality is statistically way better than one could normally expect. This doesn’t mean we are going to start winning Olympic and World Championship medals, but we’ll be competitive for the next several years. Five years out we pretty much have 70-80% of our Olympic roster identified. Heck, it might be 100% identified. All provided at essentially no cost. This might not qualify as a Golden Generation for France or Denmark, but for the U.S. it clearly does. We’ve never had it so good.

Does it Matter or Not: Answer: Yes and No

So, if it’s not already obvious how one answers this question depends on your perspective and objective.

From a narrow national team perspective it doesn’t matter at all. The task at hand, whether you’re a coach or player is to go out and perform. For the U.S. that means to be competitive and to continuously work on improving. Depending on the competition that might mean winning a title or it might mean advancing to new heights. No one directly involved in near term preparation of our national teams should care where are athletes come from or how they got there.

However, from a big picture administrative and planning perspective it really matters. If very few stateside athletes are worthy of selection to our national teams that’s a very clear indication that there our stateside structures need work… a lot of work. The good news is that since nothing special is required to “create” a national team more attention can be placed on efforts to truly develop handball stateside. This is a monumental and complex task that won’t be easy and the Golden Generation is both a gift and a warning. It’s a gift in that it frees up a lot of resources (funds and manhours). But, it’s also a warning… Golden generations don’t last forever and we won’t always have such a talented group to bail us out. The time this generation buys needs to be used wisely.

Think that I’m exaggerating this Golden Generation we have? That either they aren’t that good or that we’ll always have a similar talented group available. Well, we just so happen to have a similar cohort that we can compare it to. The current dual citizen cohort for the U.S. Women is a very stark contrast as it is nowhere near the U.S. Men in terms of quality and quantity. And, that presents a lot of challenges. I’ll tackle those challenges next.


A Closer Look at the USA Men’s Final Roster for the 2023 World Championships

USA Team Handball released their final 18 man roster for the 2023 IHF Men’s Handball World Championships yesterday. Here’s a closer look at the roster:

Coach Hedin and his team had invited 24 athletes to their pre World Championship Training Camp in Trondheim, Norway and Gothenburg, Sweden. These are the 6 athletes that weren’t selected:

From my perspective there was only one surprise with the selection and that was the decision to select Nik Zarikos instead of Sean Corning. The two were not in direct competition as Zarikos plays left wing and Corning plays right wing, but apparently Zarikos, who has not been previously selected for a Sr team roster, impressed the coaching staff in camp. Corning had made the NACHC Championship roster this summer, but Max Binderis was not available for that tournament.

Overall, there was almost no change from the roster that would have participated in the 2021 World Championship, but had to withdraw due to several positive COVID tests. In fact, Zarikos is the only addition. Going back further, the core of the team from the 2019 PANAM Games is still there with 11 athletes from that team selected for this squad.

Here’s a schematic of the roster by position with a few notes:

Goalkeeper: Pal Merkovsky who plays in Hungary’s top division is the likely #1 GK and will likely get the bulk of the minutes.

Left wing: Sam Hoddersen, who led the USA in scoring this past summer at the NACHC Championships will likely start and will probably play most of the time. Gary Hines might also play some wing as well

Left Back: Abou Fofana led the U.S. in scoring at the friendly warm up tournament in Trondheim. In his club career in France, he’s actually been used mostly as a defensive specialist, but he’s starting to get more playing time in the backcourt and has scored 33 goals this season. The biggest question mark will be his consistency and accuracy on long range shots. Hines, 38, is the team’s veteran and he plays much younger than his age. His jumping ability his hard to miss and he may play some at left wing as well. Amitovic is less experienced, but played well at the NACHC Championships.

Center Back: Team Captain, Ian Hueter is the linchpin of the offense directing traffic and executing the attack. He does an outstanding job of getting everyone involved and his performance will be key to the U.S. having success in set offense attacks. Alex Chan, is also more than capable as he is leading the Liga ASOBAL in scoring with 100 goals in 15 matches this season. (Yes, this is not a misprint: an American is the leading scorer in Spain’s top league.) Although, he is a natural center back he will likely play right back much of the time. Although out of position he will keep the ball moving laterally and will still find ways to score

Right Back: As mentioned above, Chan will likely play quite a bit at right back. Backing him up will be a pair of left handed youngsters, 21 year old Joey Stromberg and and 19 year old Jakob Rysgaard.

Right Wing: Veteran, Ty Reed, will likely get the nod here with Max Binderis backing him up.

Circle Runner: The U.S. is well stocked at this position with four big dudes that can play the position: Domagoj Srsen, Donlin, Patrick Hueter and Paul Skorupa. On offense Donlin and Hueter will likely get the most minutes and Srsen, who previously played for Hannover in the German Bundesliga should start on defense, rotating with Alex Chan.

Roster by Age

Here’s a look at the roster from youngest to oldest. The average age of the team is 26.1 years old and is a good mix of veterans and relative newcomers. And, for anyone looking ahead towards LA 2028 a good portion of the roster will surely be available for selection 5 years from now when the U.S. hosts the Olympics.

2023 Handball World Championship Web Streaming (Information and Schedule)

Your options for watch the 2023 Handball World Championships will vary depending on where you live. Some nations will be able to watch all the matches on the IHF YouTube Channel while other nations will have all or some of the matches available on a TV Channel and/or streaming to which the rights have been sold. This IHF article outlines how to watch in each nation: Link

  • IHF Competitions YouTube Channel: Link


ESPN will be airing up to 4 matches each day on their Watch ESPN platform which is accessible to anyone who subscribes to ESPN via Cable, Satellite or Streaming Service. (Important Note: This does not require an ESPN+ subscription. Further it will not be available on ESPN+. To watch the Handball WC you will need a traditional ESPN Subscription)

Watch ESPN can be watched on your TV, laptop or phone. Personally, I watch it via my ESPN app on my Roku, but there are multiple options. Typically, the first time you go to watch something, you will be asked to verify your account so have your username and password ready.

Matches are now being populated on the schedule page and can be found under the ESPN3 Channel. If past history is a guide ESPN will also add a handball logo and a 2023 WC logo to help find the matches. Additionally, matches will likely show up on the main page, but only a few minutes before the match starts.

  • ESPN Handball Schedule: Link


There is no TV contract so all matches should be available on the IHF YouTube page: Link


A Virtual Private Network (VPN) might provide access to matches that are not available on ESPN. For more information on how to use VPN check this article out: Link

Spam Sites

You’ve surely seen the multitude of social media postings inviting you to watch the match on their free service. Don’t even bother with these sites. They typically will ask you to download a video player on your computer. Trust me… you don’t want that app on your computer and in all likelihood they won’t even have the match. Go with VPN

Podcast (Episode 80): Colton Strickler of Colorado XO Rugby (Part 2): A Rugby Guy with a lot of Handball Questions and What Handball Might Learn from the New U.S. Pro Rugby League?

Colton Strickler is a media representative for DNVR Rugby. In the first part of our discussion we focused on the Colorado XO Rugby Club that is focused on rugby training for crossover or “talent transfer” athletes from other sports. In the 2nd part I let Colton ask some handball newbie questions he has as a rugby guy. Then we discuss Major League Rugby (MLR), the relatively new pro rugby competition in the U.S. and the inherent challenges with starting a new professional league.

  • Some of the topics discussed during our Handball Q&A session
    • Did Jake Plummer play handball? Yes, but the wrong handball: Link
    • The semantic problems of handball/team handball: Link
    • How should a newcomer watch a handball match?
    • The success/failure rate for handball keepers
    • Where handball can be seen during the Olympics: Link
    • How handball is organized in Europe
    • Who is the Handball GOAT and who are the top players today?
    • Handball in Denver: Denver Direwolves: Website Facebook Instagram
    • Rugby/Handball Parallels in terms of crossover development
      • Can athletes be convinced to transfer to new sports at younger ages?
      • Will those athletes eventually get overtaken by higher caliber athletes?
    • NFL Players playing handball vs a Pro Club in Hungary
      • Earlier podcast with former NFL TE Gary Barnidge: Link
    • Why did the Handball community get mad when Jay Cutler said he could lead U.S. to Olympic Gold?
      • Some background on Cutlergate: Link
    • Why some positions in both sports are harder to crossover to
    • What aspects of game play are easier to transition to in both sports
    • Why not going out of bounds in rugby is like learning to use 3 steps in handball

  • Major League Rugby (MLR) Discussion (MLR Website)
    • How the MLR is financed?
      • Similar to the MLS structure
      • Several multi-millionaires including, Adam Gilcrest, who owns the F45 Fitness Centers
        • Bob Rich, the billionaire handball player: Link
    • Challenges new leagues have with attendance and the optics of empty seats
    • Bottom Line: New leagues usually lose money… until they finally sign a good TV deal that pays
    • Player salaries: Low end to high end; Salary cap of ~$500K; and creative ways around the cap
    • The importance of making match video readily available. Handball: ehfTV Rugby: The Rugby Network

  • Colorado XO Website: Link
  • Colorado XO Rugby on Social Media
  • DNVR Rugby Website: Link
  • DNVR Twitter: Link
  • Colton Strickler on Twitter: Link

Don’t miss an episode:

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And, be sure to check out the podcast archive with interviews and great handball discussion going all the way back to 2006: Link