SF CalHeat Wins NACHC Club Championship, Qualifies for IHF SuperGlobe Tournament
by Matthew Collins
SF CalHeat clinched its spot in the 2023 IHF SuperGlobe Tournament after beating Puerto Rican side Caciques Palmer 33:27 in the Gold Medal match of the North American and Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC) Club Championship, serving as the IHF SuperGlobe Qualifier for the region.
Thirteen of the sixteen athletes who represented CalHeat at the NACHC tournament also captured the trophy at the 2023 US Open Nationals in Spokane, Washington in early May. That continuity led the Bay Area based US club to go undefeated in the tournament, held in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, just as they did in the 2021 edition of the regional qualifier.
Two teams from Puerto Rico, Los Guerrilleros and Caciques Palmer, as well as Krakens H.C., based in Mexico, made up the compeititon for the CalHeat squad.
In the round robin group play, the San Francisco team first dispatched Caciques Palmer in their first match of the tournament by a final score of 34:22, with Felix Kers leading the scoring for CalHeat with seven goals.
Krakens H.C. was the opposition for CalHeat's second match of the tournament, and behind a five goal performance from Kers, with Kasper Ogendahl and Zuwed Aukuro each chipping in four, the American side came out victorious, 29:16.
The final group match saw a repeat of the Bronze Medal match of last year's tournament with CalHeat taking on Los Guerrilleros. CalHeat opened up a comfortable thirteen goal advantage at halftime, and with Mikio Tada and Eloy Rubio making their presence know on the offensive end, with five and four goals, respectively, they secured their spot in the Gold Medal match.
With the other three competitors tied on points after group play, Calciques Palmer progressed through to the championship match via goal differential.
The Gold Medal match saw a relatively even first several minutes, with the 8:7 scoreline in favor of the American side being unchanged from the 10th to 14th minute, before goals by Drew Donlin and Paul Assflag in quick succesion spurned a 9-4 run for CalHeat. Calciques Palmer brought their deficit to only four in the closing stages of the first half, as the teams headed into the break with a score of 18:14.
As the teams crossed the 10 minute mark of the second half, the lead for CalHeat remained at four. One goal for each side in the next five minutes, with CalHeat's being supplied by Donlin, before they were able to open up a 29:22 lead at the 21 minute mark of the half, and didn't look back, capturing the victory with a six goal win. Felix Kers led the offensive effort with eight goals and Goalkeeper Lucas Kroeger providing timely saves to stifle the host team's attack.
Five CalHeat players were named to the tournament's All-Star team: Lucas Kroeger (Goalkeeper), Daniel Eggert (Right Back), Eloy Rubio (Center Back), Zuwed Akuro (Left Back), and Drew Donlin (Pivot). Felix Kers scored 27 goals over the course of the four matches, placing him 4th on the tournament's top scorers list.
After a disappointing tournament in the 2022 edition, the CalHeat team was keen on qualifying again for the global tournament.
"The team is obviously very excited about winning and qualifyinf for the SuperGlobe in November. Ever since our tough loss in the semi finals last year, it has been our goal to get back," Drew Donlin said. In response to their performance at the tournament, Donlin added, "This tournament was tough at time in that we had to beat the host team twice, which is never easy to do, but the guys stayed locked in and got the job done. It was truly a team effort."
The team now turns its attention to the 2023 IHF SuperGlobe, to be hosted in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, from November 6th to 12th. CalHeat Head Coach Danilo Rojevic is looking to improve on their performance from two years ago at the premier competition for club team handball in the world.
"This will be our second time attending the IHF Super Globe and it will be an exciting challenge. In our inaugural participation, our goal was to be competitive as much as possible and look credible in front of the handball world. I believe we achieved that," Rojevic said. "This time, we want to try to go a step above, and collect a win. It sounds crazy, and it probably is, but we are from the US, sky's the limit!"