Youth Men's Team Qualifies for 2023 World Championships
by Matthew Collins
After compiling a 3-1-1 record, USA Team Handball’s Youth Men’s National Team came away with a Bronze medal at the IHF Youth Trophy NACHC Championships in Mexico City from November 15th to 19th.
With the third place finish, the squad qualified for the 2023 IHF Men’s Youth World Championship, slated to be held in Croatia next August.
The US had to square off against teams from the North American and Caribbean Zone to secure qualification including Dominica, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, and Guadeloupe, several of which have a strong history of handball success.
In the first match of the tournament, the US took on Dominica, and went on an offensive attack, winning the match by over 40 goals, with a final score of 47-6. The United States had ten players find the back of the net, led by Aiden Bulow with 10 goals and Tristan Morawski with 7. Just as impressive, the defense held Dominica to only 3 goals in each half.
On matchday #2, Guadeloupe was the opponent. After a pretty even first half, with the US only down four goals going into the break, Guadeloupe opened up the gap, claiming a 41-23 victory. In this match, it was Maksim McCauley’s turn to lead the scoring, finishing with 8 goals. Benjamin Edwards added 5. Luis Delgado, Ian Hodgson, and John Gallittu each found the back of the net twice.
After a tough loss against Guadeloupe, the squad bounced back to earn a victory over Canada, 29 to 22. The USA pulled away in the second half, led by 12 goals from Benjamin Edwards.
In the fourth match of the tournament, the USA squared off against Mexico, in a match that had serious medal and qualification implications. After a hard fought 60 minutes, the match ended in a 33-33 tie, with the USA team celebrating as the final whistle sounded as a tie guaranteed their qualification for next year’s tournament and at least a bronze medal to bring back from Mexico City. Without some heroic goalkeeping play from Mattia Cercola, the USA may have lost this match, but the saves turned out to become goals on the offensive, erasing a three goal deficit in the final minutes.
In the last match of the tournament, the USA played Puerto Rico and with strong offensive performances from John Gallittu and Chanwoo Lim, with nine and four goals, respectively, was able to finish the tournament with a 30-24 win.
Several members of the squad were selected to the all-tournament team, with Tristan Morawski being named best right back, Maksim McCauley being named best pivot, and Mattia Cercola earning the top goalie award.
Martin Bilello, head coach of the group, was impressed with the teams performance, especially with their lack of playing together on a consistent basis, saying: “Given the short notice for the tournament and the impossibility of holding any training camps beforehand, the team had to come together the day before the competition began and have only 50 minutes of practice before the first game of the competition. Considering all these circumstances, the team came together pretty quickly and everyone adapted to playing with each other pretty fast. As the tournament progressed you could see how the team played better every game, as the players adapted to the system and to each other.”
When asked what the team did well in order to win the bronze, Bilello stated, that “After some troubles in handling the pressure on the second half with Guadeloupe, the team was able to learn from the experience and demonstrated a mental toughness and overall resilience that allowed us to win against Canada and tie the game with Mexico, which secured our qualification to World Championships.
This has been the best group I ever worked with, not only from the talent standpoint, but also from the human aspect. A wholesome group with insane potential. We are establishing the talent pipeline for the Senior team, and I think Robert Hedin can be really happy about the player pool for the coming years.”
Bilello also adds, “Having qualified the first Youth Men’s team to the Beach Handball World Championship earlier this year, and now the first Youth Men’s team to the Team Handball World Championship will certainly demonstrate to everyone that the possibilities are there for us to take advantage of. But this has only been possible because of the work we have been doing for the past 6 years developing young talent in the US.
The impact of these qualifications will be felt stronger in the areas where we already have youth development in place, as the players and community will spread the experience and their learnings. We need this to also be spread all across the country, but that will only be possible if more people take the lead in their region and start the development.”
In addition, the technical staff of assistant coach Gary Hines, who is a current senior men’s national team player, medical provider Kyle Allison, and High Performance Manager Krista Austin were crucial in the success of the team.