Junior WNT Wins Silver Medal at IHF Trophy, Qualifies for Next Year's World Championships
by Matthew Collins
With a second place finish at the IHF Trophy tournament, USA Team Handball's Junior Women's National Team has secured qualification for the 2024 IHF Women's Junior World Championship.
The IHF Trophy tournament, which brought teams from across the North American and Carribean Handball Confederation (NACHC), took place in Mexico City from December 9th-13th. The United States took on Cuba, Guadeloupe, Canada, Puerto Rico, and Mexico.
The squad that represented the US was comprised of veterans to the Senior National Team, including Goalkeepers Lani Gronwald and Julia Malysz, Back Daisy Licea, and Viva Kreis on the wing, as well as athletes who were on a USA roster for the first time.
Eight of the athletes were on the team in April 2022 that placed 2nd at the NACHC Junior Championship that qualified them for that year's edition of the World Championship.
After a five-day training camp in Mexico City to build chemistry, the United States opened up play versus Cuba. Led by eight goals by Eden Nesper, the Americans were able to spurn a potential Cuba comeback in the second half and come away with a 29-26 victory. With 20 saves in the match, goalkeeper Lani Gronwald was named the Player of the Match.
In the second match of the tournament, the USA took on Guadeloupe, where they led at the halftime break, 20-13. However, Guadeloupe was able to put together several runs in the second half and defeated the US by a final score of 34-30.
Looking to bounce back from their day two loss, the squad took on a familiar foe in Canada. Coming out strong, the United States never trailed in the match, and defeated the Canadians by seven, 33-26. Mayte Martinez Campos was awarded the Player of the Match, adding eight goals for the offensive attack.
On matchday four, Lovisa Dobreff took over the match and scored ten goals for the USA, and helped the Americans win by a dozen, 32-24 over Puerto Rico.
In the final match of the tournament, the US took on Mexico, with a win by either team securing first place in the tournament. Qualification for the World Championships was still up in the air for several teams as Mexico and the US squared off in the last match of the day. The United States were able to open up a three goal advantage into the halftime intermission, but with the less than a minute to go, the match was deadlocked at 27. A shot that sailed just wide on the USA's final possession led to a tie, which meant Mexico secured a first place finish on home soil.
The awards ceremony at the end of the tournament saw Viva Kreis and Isabela Da Cruz make the All-Tournament Team, as Best Left Wing and Best Defender, respectively.
Head Coach Hendrik Schultze saw growth from the squad and is looking forward to competing against the best of the world next year.
"The team displayed great resilience, adaptability, and unwavering commitment. Facing numerous challenges, we embraced each one with our guiding motto: 'It’s just another challenge. We will find the solutions.' This approach was evident both on and off the court, as we found ways to overcome obstacles," Schultze said. "A special kudos to our players for not only accepting the advice from our coaching staff but brilliantly transforming it into action on the field, and performing under pressure. This is a proud moment for all of us, and I look forward to seeing our team’s continued growth and success on the world stage."
Co-Captains of the squad, Lovisa Dobreff and Lani Gronwald, also emphasized the team's progression throughout the tournament.
"We faced several setbacks and challenges during this competition- both on and off the court. And we managed to rise up to every single on of them- together. That really was the key, we came together as a team, having each others backs, knowing we could count on every single teammate, and of course - having a blast together is a big part of our success. Now we get to go back to the Junior World Championship even stronger than last time!", they said.
The 2024 IHF Women's Junior World Championship will take place from June 19-30, 2024 in North Macedonia. Thirty-two teams from six different confederations will compete in the tournament.