The 2023 USA Team Handball Collegiate National Championships wrapped up on Sunday with both the West Point Men and Women taking home the Championship Trophy.
The West Point-Black Women managed to take an early lead against Carolina and were able to stay comfortably in front most of the way for a 34-29 victory. In the 3rd place match Ohio State picked up their first win of the tournament with an 18-12 victory over West Point-Gold.
It was the 3rd title in a row for West Point and they have also won 8 out of the last 8 competitions. Maci Hodgins of West Point was name the tournament MVP and the leading scorer was Ohio St’s Deborah Seipp with 31 goals.
The Men’s competition saw West Point break open a close match late for a 34-29 victory over Carolina. For the West Point-Black side it was a typical clinical tournament as they rolled to their 15th consecutive collegiate title. In the Bronze medal match Ohio State dominated what appeared to be a fatigued Air Force team for a comfortable 40-26 win. West Point’s Colin Gray took home the MVP honors while Air Force’s led all scorers with 37 goals.
The second day of competition included some predictable blowouts, but also a few nailbiters.
In the Women’s competition Group Play concluded with two close games between evenly matched team as West Point-Black beat Carolina 12-10 to finish top of the table and West Point-Gold edged Ohio St, 11-10 to finish 3rd. In the Semifinals West Point Black dispatched Ohio St, 19-12 and Carolina beat West Point Gold 20-14 to set up rematches for both the Final and 3rd place matches which will take place today at 11 AM (US ET).
In the Men’s competition, the quarterfinals saw 3 predictable blowouts and 1 close match between Air Force and West Point-Gold that came down to the wire with Air Force edging West Points 2nd team narrowly, 30-29
West Point-Black vs CWRU 33-4
OSU-Scarlet vs Tar Heels 30-13
Air Force vs West Point-Gold 30-29
Carolina vs Auburn 26-12
The semifinals saw a rematch of last year’s final between West Point-Black and Ohio St-Scarlet. West Point broke the game open early for a 4 goal lead that they never relinquished as the tourney favorites gradually wore down Ohio St for a 7 goal win. In the other semifinal, Air Force suffered a key lost early in the match when their center back, Ethan Kwun, was red carded. North Carolina seemed to have the edge, but a game Air Force side hung tough and the match proved to be a dead heat, tied at the end of regulation, tied a the end of extra time and only to be decided by a penalty shootout. Carolina’s Hugh Toomey, scored the matchwinner to send Carolina to Sunday’s final. Video
West Point-Black vs OSU-Scarlet 31-24
Carolina 25-25 (Carolina won Penalty shootout 5-3)
Today’s gold match between West Point and North Carolina will be later today at 1 PM US ET. West Point-Black has dominated their competition so far and will be heavily favored to win their 15th consecutive national title. A title they’ve won every non COVID year since 2007. North Carolina is the last non West Point to win a championship, having won 3 consecutive from 2004-2006.
Yesterday, the 2023 USA Team Handball College Nationals saw the favorite teams dominate group play competition.
In the Women’s competition Group Play started with wins for both West Point Black and Carolina. Group Play will continue today with 2 more matches for all 4 teams, followed by semifinal matches at 3:45 PM. The Final will then take place at 11 AM on Sunday
In the Men’s competition, 6 teams have qualified for the quarterfinals, 2 have been relegated to classification play, while 4 teams remain in the hunt. Group play will conclude this morning with 4 contests that will determine seeding and/or qualification.
In Group A, Air Force has played and won their two matches to take the top seed so newcomer SUNY Cortland and Tar Heels will face off to determine 2nd place. In Group B, Cincinnati has been eliminated from contention so Ohio St Scarlet and West Point-Gold will play to determine 1st and 2nd. In Group C, West Point-Black has won both of their matches, so Ohio St-Gray and Auburn will play for 2nd place and a QF berth. In Group D, Miami has been eliminated so Carolina and Case Western will play to determine seeding for 1st and 2nd.
After pool play is concluded this morning, the quarterfinals will throw off at noon and 1:15 PM and the semifinals will take place at 5:00 PM. The tournament will then conclude with the championship at 1 PM on Sunday.
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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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
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.
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
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
The intent of this page is to provide a consolidated location for 2023 Handball World Championship information that can serve both dedicated handball fans as well as newcomers just discovering the sport.
Competition Schedule and Results: Link
Team Information (Official pages, previews, rosters and handy Wikipedia pages): Link
30 years ago I was a member of the U.S. National Team that participated in the 1993 World Championships in Sweden. This week, Team USA returns to Sweden for the 2023 World Championships and I can’t help but feel nostalgic along with a little bit of deja vu. Deja vu, in the sense that while handball has changed and evolved in many ways the U.S. is simply right back where we were 30 years ago.
A Seminal Experience
Anyone who knows me or has followed this website is well aware that I have a great deal of passion for the sport of handball. Where does that passion come from? Well, much of it can be attributed to my participation in the 1993 WC. I was already passionate about the sport, but having the opportunity to represent my country and play against the best handball athletes on a world stage had a super charging effect. Further, my participation was unexpected. I had actually been cut from 1 of 4 Olympic Festival teams (an annual event used in part to evaluate prospects) a year and half earlier. I though my career was over, and instead I ended up starting on defense and playing just about as good as my limited skills and talent would allow. And, now the U.S. returns to a World Championship in Sweden 30 years later. How could I not be nostalgic?
Here are some names from my 1993 experience and the role they now will have at the 2023 WC.
U.S. Head Coach, Robert Hedin: Yes, as you can see from the old Swedish newspaper clipping, Coach Hedin played against the U.S. in our forgettable 32-16 loss to the Swedes at the Scandinavium in Gothenburg. How forgettable? Coach Hedin had literally forgotten that he had even played against the U.S. back in 1993 when I first mentioned it to him during an interview. He remembered playing against the U.S. at the 1996 Olympics, but had totally forgotten this classic. Clearly not a seminal moment for him. (Interview from 2018 shortly after he was hired: Link)
U.S. Asst Coach, Darrick Heath: Heath, is one of the all time best back courts for the U.S. and was also on the 93 USA Team. So the U.S. coaching staff will be returning to Sweden 30 years later, but this time Hedin and Heath will be working together on the same team.
Netherlands Head Coach, Stefan Olsson: Olsson was briefly the USA Team Handball High Performance Manager and is now the coach of the Netherlands. I’m thinking he’s also forgotten the U.S. match 30 years ago. If he remembers, he did not play well and I like to think I played a part in that. (Even if it’s not true… that’s how I like to remember it.)
Just how long has Paul Bray been commentating handball? 30 years ago he was the voice on EuroSport, cracking up the USA team with “barging, giving up the far post” and other British colloquialisms that sounded pretty funny to our American ears.
Striking to me are some athletes on the rosters with similar backgrounds:
Darrick Heath (1993) / Gary Hines (2023): Much like Gary Hines was the “jumping out of the gym” crowd favorite at the warm up tourney in Trondheim, Darrick Heath was the crowd favorite back in 1993. It’s not very often one can actually hear a crowd collectively gasp, but that’s exactly what happened in Gothenburg the first time Darrick launched a jump shot off a 9 meter throw. Seriously, in that one very narrow skill of a 9 meter jump shot behind a wall Darrick might well be the all time greatest.
And, here’s a side note on Gary that makes me feel just a little bit younger. Way back in 2004 I played my last competitive matches at the USA National Championships with Gary on the Condors club team. As long as he keeps winning the battle vs Father Time I get to watch Team USA and keep saying, “Yeah, I played with him.”
John Keller (1993) / Ty Reed (2023): They play a different position (Right Back for Keller; Right Wing for Reed), but they both played for NCAA Division 1 football teams (North Carolina for Keller; Alabama for Reed).
John Ryan (1993) / Drew Donlin (2023): Both Circle Runners; Both Air Force Academy Graduates; Both Captains and while Drew is the Space Force and I was in the Air Force, I was working Space acquisition before Donald Trump made it cool. The similarities pretty much end there, though. While I was a serviceable defensive specialist no one was plucking me out of the lineup to go play in the Liga ASOBAL for a couple of years.
Similar Teams and Deja Vu?
I write this with a question mark because we’re talking different eras and I’m pretty sure this USA team is not going to finish dead last with no wins like we did back in 1993. That said, I like to think that if we had played with an expanded field of 32 teams (instead of a 16 team field) we wouldn’t have finished 32nd.
We were a side that played hard and showed some potential. Darrick Heath parlayed his performance into a professional career. Several of my teammates continued playing and became Olympians 3 years later. The U.S. continued to improve and started to play closer matches vs the top teams. Why does Coach Hedin remember his match against the U.S. at the 96 Olympics? Because three years after clobbering us by 16 goals they had to sweat out a 4 goal win in Atlanta.
The jury is still out on this 2023 team, but the warmup tourney in Trondheim suggests that we will see a team that will sometimes be way out of its league (losing 27-12 to Norway in the 1st half) and at times pretty competitive (losing 16-14 to Norway in the 2nd half). Much like the U.S. team was back in 1993. (Our two halves vs Sweden in 1993: Link)
And, perhaps just like 1993 we could see some players turn some heads. It won’t shock me at all if Abou Fofana and/or Ian Huter with the great exposure provided by the World Championships get some offers from bigger clubs.
It’s also pretty clear to me that we will be watching the core nucleus of our 2028 Olympic team. There are a few players on the roster that will likely age out, but the bulk of this roster is in their early to mid 20s. Why, I see as many as 10 athletes on the current roster suiting up in Los Angeles in 2028. And, unlike our 93 team they will have 5 years instead of 3 to further develop as a team. So while this 2023 team is in a similar place to the 1993 team they have far greater potential.
I think Abou Fofana said it best when he was asked on Instagram, “What should Americans look out for when they watch this team?”
All, I can say is… I wholeheartedly concur with his assessment
But, while there are some similarities between these two teams, there’s one huge difference that would have been inconceivable to me and my teammates 30 years ago. And, that is a roster consisting mostly of Americans who grew up in another country. I’ll explain why in part 2 this is not really something to be concerned about… if we take full advantage of this good fortune to really focus on efforts to develop handball stateside.
Some links to check out
Team USA results at previous Handball World Championships: Link