Head Coach Martin Bilello Previews USA’s Challenging Group at IHF Youth World Championships
by Matthew Collins
In the less than a week, the United States’ Youth Men’s National Team will begin play at the 2023 IHF Youth World Championships, with the American team heading to Opatija, Croatia for group play. The United States has been slotted into Group G alongside Argentina, Germany, and Saudi Arabia, providing challenging opponents for a squad comprised of both national team returners as well as athletes new to the fold.
Out of the eighteen athletes selected to represent the US, thirteen have previous national team experience, with a majority securing the team’s qualification for the World Championship at the 2022 IHF Youth Trophy in Mexico City. The five athletes who are making their international debut at the upcoming tournament include Alfonso Alcover, Kaeden Kuhlmeyer, Jordan Fernandez, Aaron Munguia, and Fabian Zinke, with Zinke playing his club handball in the Bay Area with San Francisco CalHeat.
With undoubtedly the most international experience in the squad, back Maksim McCauley will add a Youth World Championships to his already busy year representing the USA. In the past year alone, he has participated in the IHF Youth Trophy, Senior World Championships, Pan American Games Qualification, and Junior World Championships earlier this Summer. McCauley, alongside Mattia Cercola, Grayson Wide, Evan Gordon, Benjamin Edwards, and Nepomuk Grabner, played in the IHF Junior World Championships, capturing two historic victories for the American team.
Head Coach Martin Bilello is excited to have recent World Championship experience on his roster. “It is very beneficial because they have been through an event like that and know what to expect already, so they can focus on just the games,” Bilello said, “And their experience will translate to the rest of the team.”
That experience will most certainly be needed as the US will be tested by three formidable opponents in the group stage, determining if they will head to the President’s Cup, or the Main Round.
The United States begins group play against Argentina, having qualified for the tournament after winning the South and Central American Men’s Youth Handball Championship, defeating Brazil in the final. The Argentinians highest finish ever at a World Championship came in 2007, where they finished 4th, whereas at the most recent edition in 2019, they finished in 14th place.
Germany is the opponent for the Americans second match of the tournament, who comes off a third-place finish at the 2022 European U-18 Men’s Handball Championship, defeating Hungary 29:22 in the Bronze Medal match. At their most recent participation at the World Championship, the German side fell in the championship match by four goals to Egypt.
After a day of rest, the US faces Saudi Arabia, who Bilello describes as a “very fast and strong team” and was the 3rd place finisher at the Asian Youth Handball Championship, finishing behind Iran and South Korea.
The USA’s opponents’ performances at their continental championships provides insight for Bilello into what his squad should be expecting in Croatia.
"Although at first glance it may seem an accessible group, on these age categories, every cycle is a new team, so no matter how well the same country did the last World Championship, the team will be different this time. So the best way to look at them is to see their positions at their continental tournaments.”
Understanding that the opposition in the group stage will be a challenge, Bilello’s extensive coaching experience (2022 IHF Youth Trophy 2022, 2022 Beach Youth World Championships Youth, 2019 Junior World Championships, and 2017 Youth Pan American Championships) makes him believe his squad is prepared for the global stage.
“All 3 games will be hard for us, but this is why you play at the World Championships, to measure yourself against the best in the world, to learn from the experience, and develop and grow for the next challenge. Rest assured we will do our best in every game we play, and we will try to get our first win at this level for Team USA."