MNT Qualifies for 2023 Pan American Games
by Matthew Collins
After two dominating performances against Canada, the United States’ Men’s National Team captured a berth in the 2023 Pan American Games, to be held in Santiago, Chile this fall.
In the North American and Caribbean Handball Confederation play-off, the USA squad was made up of members who recently competed in the 2023 IHF World Championships.
In a usual home and away affair, an exception meant that both matches of the playoff between Canada and the USA were played at the United States Olympic and Paralympic Training Center, based in beautiful Colorado Springs, Colorado.
After several days of training on campus and getting acclimated to the altitude of Colorado Springs, sitting at just over 6,000 feet, the USA looked to keep the momentum from a historic run at the World Championships, finishing 20th overall and coming home with two wins, versus Morocco and Belgium.
In the first match, the USA and Canada traded blows for much of the first half, with the squads being separated by two at 13-11 at the 20 minute mark. The USA attack finally got things rolling, going on a 11-3 run to close out the half, with a score at 24-14 at the break.
In the second half, the defense for the USA was impenetrable, letting in only 3 goals in the second half. The final score of the contest came out in favor of the Americans, 40-17.
Drew Donlin led the US with 11 goals, with Alexandre Chan and Gary Hines adding 6 each. Douglas Otterstrom played most of the match between the posts, adding some timely saves to swing the momentum.
After a rest day on Friday, with the squad making a trip to the US Olympic and Paralympic Museum, the United States looked to keep the momentum going, while the Canadians seeked to make a comeback and secure qualification.
Once again, the teams went back and forth for the first few minutes of the match with the USA only holding a two goal lead at the midway point of the first half.
With a 15-7 lead at the half, only a monumental collapse would keep the USA out of the Pan American Games.
Gary Hines provided several highlight reel goals in the second half and the Americans claimed a 34-17 victory over the neighbors to the North.
Gary Hines led the US with 10 goals, and Drew Donlin and Nikolas Zarikos contributed 9 and 6 goals respectively.
With the victories, the USA qualified for the 2023 Pan American Games along with the likes of Chile, Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina, with 3 more of the 8 slots to still be filled before the tournament, which will take place from October 21 to November 1.
The last medal for the United States at the Pan American Games was a bronze in 2003, with a bronze medal in 1991 and a gold medal in 1987 being the only times the Americans have won medals in their seven trips to the tournament.
The first place finisher at the 2023 Pan American Games will qualify directly for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, France, with the other top placing teams having to go through an IHF Last Chance Qualifier to book a spot, a much more difficult path.
The United States’ leading goal scorer during these two matches, Drew Donlin, described that, “It meant a lot to the team and me personally to be able to compete well on home soil and to continue building on our team success from the world championships. We know we have a lot of work to go, but we feel we are in a great spot to perform well at the Pan Am Games in October.”
Center Back Alexandre Chan Blanco adds, ““I hope people felt proud of us after these two games. We were extreamly (sic) honored to play in front of them and that gave us that extra motivation to perform as we did. Now we look forward to keep improving our game in order to reach big things at Pan Ams. We will give our very best to bring a medal home.”
Stay tuned to USA Team Handball’s social media accounts to follow the journey to the 2023 Pan American Games!