Jr MNT Preparing for Challenging Group Stage at 2023 World Championships
by Jennifer Yasin
Mark your calendars, handball enthusiasts! The USA Team Handball Junior Men's National Team is gearing up to compete in the 2023 IHF Junior World Handball Championship, taking place in Germany and Greece from June 20th to July 2nd 2023. This is an historic event for the global handball community, as the tournament was cancelled in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and this marks the first time that fans have had to wait four years to witness the world's most elite handball teams vie for the title of Junior World Champion. This is also only the second time in the tournament's history that it will be held in two host countries, providing a unique and exciting opportunity for fans and players alike.
In December 2022, the USA team demonstrated their skill and tenacity during the North American and Caribbean Men's Junior Handball Championship, securing their qualification and earning a silver medal after a hard-fought match against Cuba in the finals. Notably, #6 Jakob Christensen was selected for the tournament All-star team as "Best Right Back," and #18 Elliot Robertson was named tournament MVP.
This marks the second World Championship for the USA Junior Men, who made their first appearance in the tournament in 2019, finishing in 22nd place. As the tournament date approaches, Head Coach Danilo Rojevic is determined to lead his team to success, stating, "Our opponents and location are now known, and the clock is ticking."
While the USA Team proved themselves to be a formidable opponent in the qualifiers, they are preparing for some of their toughest games right out of the gate. In the first round they will face off against France, Poland, and Croatia, a challenging but exciting opportunity for the team to showcase their skills against some of the top teams in the world.
France enters the tournament as a reigning two-time World Champion (2019 and 2015), with an impressive 17 appearances at the World Championships, while host country Croatia, ranked second in the world, has 8 prior appearances and a single Championship title (1997). The two teams battled it out for the gold medal in 2019, with France winning 28-23 after an impressive showing from Croatia, who had four of the top 10 scorers of the tournament.
While France and Croatia both bring impressive results from recent tournaments, Poland is making their first appearance at the World Championship in over 25 years, with their best performance in 1997 when they came in 4th place. But don’t be too quick to overlook Poland, they beat Croatia 33-31 in the 2022 European Championship, finishing the tournament in 13th place and ensuring an exciting preliminary round for all four teams.
Head Coach Danilo Rojevic is excited for the opportunity to play against some of the world’s most elite teams, stating, "This is a tough draw to say the least. All these teams have long and very successful traditions in our sport. France and Croatia are also the last two World Championship finalists from 2019. But, the opportunity to play against the very best is exactly what the USA needs. We will need to be at the top of our game and physically very, very well prepared."
Rojevic is also looking forward to the tournament being held in the GETEC Arena, one of handball’s great landmarks and home of SC Magdeburg, the 2022 Champions of the elite German-Bundesliga, adding, "I'm also very happy to be playing in the GETEC Arena…the players will be immersed in a perfect ecosystem to learn and grow." With seating for over 8,000 spectators, playing in the GETEC Arena will certainly be an experience to remember.
As the tournament date approaches, Rojevic and the USA Team Handball Junior Men's National Team are ready to take on the competition and make a lasting impression on the international handball stage. With determination and hard work, they hope to make their mark at the 2023 IHF Junior World Handball Championship and show the world that the future of USA Team Handball is a bright one.