SF CalHeat Youth Squad Gains International Experience at Tournaments in Europe
by Matthew Collins
Youth athletes representing the Bay Area based SF CalHeat traveled to Europe in the beginning of July to compete in multiple international competitions.
The European adventure started for the squad in Gothenbrug, Sweden, where they took part in the famous Partille Cup, the 52nd edition of the tournament. Convening over 1,000 teams from 34 nations in the 2023, the Partille Cup is the largest annual handball tournament in the world regarding the number of participants. These tournaments exposed the CalHeat players to competition they generally wouldn’t see stateside.
“These kinds of competitions are very important for the development of America based players, as they don’t have the luck of facing this kind of competition on a regular basis,” the team’s Head of Delegation Martin Bilello said. “It not only gives them the game experience they need to perform at the world stage, it also validates all the work and training they have been putting on the US local league and circuit.”
Comprised of ten athletes, the team met intense European competition at the Partille Cup, being slotted into a group with one team each from Norway, Portugal, and Denmark, and two from Sweden.
The Partille Cup is unique as all matches are played on grass fields sprawled across Sweden’s second largest city, and each half is only 15 minutes long, leading to lower scores than handball fans are trained to expect at the final whistle.
The roster for the compeition in Sweden was AJ Bulow, Lukas Neikell, Paulo Barr-Gutierrez, Fabian Zinke, Bora Bozkurt, Enzio Maita, Ezekiel McClintock, Laurenz Harrer, Jayden Corado-Rosales, and Aaron Wolf-Bloom.
In their first match of the tournament, taking place on Independence Day, July 4th, the California team took on Norwegian side, Fjellhammer IL 1, and lost with a final score of 17:9.
On Day 2, the team defeated Harryda HK, hailing from Sweden, 14:6, followed up by a close loss to Strandby-Elling IF from Denmark 13:11. In the later match of the day, CalHeat found themselves in the lead 11:10 in the closing stages of the match, but in the final four minutes, the Danish opponents went on a 3-0 run to claim victory.
Another doubleheader on Day 3 was started in the morning with a victory for CalHeat over Portuguese team GM 1 Dezembro Queijas 1, with the squad erasing a three-goal deficit with 11 minutes to go in the second half to come out on top 15:14. In the last match of group play, Swedish Taby Centrum 2 was able to take down the American side in the second match of the day, 11:7.
The squad finished group play nestled in 4th place with a total of four points, only missing out on 3rd by goal differential.
In their last match of the tournament, the team faced off against Haslum Handball 2 from Norway, and in a high-scoring affair, dropped the match 25:18. An Aiden Bulow goal in the 20th minute put CalHeat up 12:9, but the Norwegian side went on a 16-6 run to continue in the tournament.
Shortly after their playoff defeat, without much time to dwell on it, the athletes headed to Teramo, Italy to participate in the Interamnia tournament, which also welcomed competition from many different countries for the American team.
There was one change to the roster for the American side, with Ian Hodgson joining the team in Italy, and Laurenz Harrer and Lukas Neikell not participating in Teramo.
Over their eight group matches, the squad faced opposition from Andorra, Uruguay, Italy, Libya, Republic of Cyprus, Puerto Rico, and Brazil. With a convincing 6 wins over their group matches, especially a 23:12 rout Italian side Pallamano Chieti, qualified the team for the quarterfinals with a third-place finish in their group.
In the quarterfinals, the opposition was Corseulles HBC from France. After a close match, CalHeat lost to the French team by three goals (19:16), with Corseulles HBC going on to win the tournament championship.
On the team’s overall performance, Coach Maximillian Paulus said, “In several occasions the team outdid itself and performed very well especially considering the training volume available to prepare for the tournaments,” while Coach Soren Muller expressed a similar sentiment saying, “You could see that the continuous high levels of play elevated our level and within a such short period of time we were able to play eye to eye matches with teams from France and Brazil.”
AJ Bulow, who was instrumental on the offensive side for the CalHeat team at both tournaments, appreciated this opportunity to compete at these tournaments. “Competing internationally was beyond eye opening in experiencing what it’s like to play handball with different nations around the world. From the different play-styles, environments around us, and the friends we made along our journey, there is nothing that compares to it within the United States. This type of diversity and community is something I hope we can continue to build and eventually bring out in US handball.”