Youth MNT Claims First Win at World Championship Ever
by Matthew Collins
After a tough group stage and loss to Sweden in their first match of the President's Cup at the 2023 IHF Youth Men's World Championships, the United States was motivated to do something historic: win a match at the World Championship for the first time in history.
On Tuesday, in Optajia, Croatia, the Youth Men's National Team accomplished that goal as they took down Burundi, 33:26, to capture that ever elusive victory.
In the match versus Burundi, who finished fourth at the most recent African Youth Men's Handball Championship, the first few minutes started off frustrating for the Americans, as all that came from the first five minutes of the match were two Burundi goals and a 2 minute suspension to key player Benjamin Edwards.
After a John Gallittu goal opened the scoring for the US, Benjamin Edwards re-entered the game to score back-to-back goals, the second being on a 7 meter penalty throw, to cut the Burundi lead to 4:3.
At the eleven minute mark, Burundi led 6:4, but a 4-1 run by the US, shifted the lead to the Americans at the sixteen minute mark, 8:7.
In the closing minutes of the first half, Burundi managed to recapture the lead, 14:11, before two goals from Benjamin Edwards and Maksim McCauley in the final four minutes lifted the US to a one goal lead heading into halftime.
Burundi came out of the halftime break with three unanswered goals, thanks in part to a Jordan Fernandez 2 minute suspension from just before the end of the first half that carried over.
Fernandez was able to make impact as he got back on the floor, scoring in the 38th minute, to increase the USA lead to 22:20.
Three unanswered Burundi goals and a Benjamin Edwards 2 minute suspension put the USA in a tough spot in the 49th minute but a Grayson Wide save led to a Maksim McCauley goal to even the score as the match headed to its final 10 minutes at 26:26
After a Burundi timeout, goals from John Gallittu and Jordan Fernandez increased the lead for the US to 28:26.
Then in the 54th minute, and inarguably the turning point of the match, a triple save made by Grayson Wide, which could only be described as unbelieveable, sparked a 5:0 run to close out the match with three goals from Nepomuk Grabner and one from both Benjamin Edwards and John Gallittu.
Due to a oustanding performance, inlcuding 11 goals, Benjamin Edwards was named Player of the Match.
As Edwards reflected on the victory, he said, "It feels amazing to be a part of USATH history, and a great win for the team." He added, "We did the things we talked about, and we were patient to find the right decisions. We went through ups and downs but we always kept our heads up to finally get this win."
When asked about his momentum-shifting saves in the second half, goalkeeper Grayson Wide knew that he wasn't going to let the opponents score. "When I saw the Burundi player running towards me on the fast break, the only thought on my mind is that it won't get past me," Wide said. "And that feeling stayed with me for the next two saves. The saves gave us the energy to finish the game strong."
The American squad did finish the match strong, capturing the win and is something that Head Coach Martin Bilello said was a progression from their previous matches at the tournament.
"The team keeps on building from our previous games, and we went all out to win this one as we knew it was our best chance," Billelo said. "It was a historic win for the US as the first one at this level...Everyone is ecstatic about the triumph and we will keep building on this. We have two more games and we want to keep writing history."