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USA Team Handball

Ref offers sideline view of Condor loss to NYC

May 09, 2009, 7:12 p.m. (ET)

 As a professional handball referee, Jozef Scesnak has to refrain from taking sides.

But Scesnak, a former handball player, sometimes is able to gauge the strengths and weaknesses of a team more accurately when he's viewing from the sidelines.

Such was the case Saturday at the 2009 Club National Championships during a matchup between the Condors and the New York City Team Handball Club, the defending men's national champions. From the beginning, the odds were stacked against the Condors, Scesnak said, though they did have a few advantages.

For one thing, they are a strong team, armed with U.S. Olympians such as Robert Mayfield and Darrick Heath, who played together during the Atlanta 1996 Summer Games. But the team's star power and key players' physical strength fell short against New York, which blasted the Condors 29-13.

The result was somewhat expected, Scesnak said, though he admits the Condors are not pushovers. While the Condors expressed much passion and power during the match, their opponents played smarter and with more technical grace. And, although the Condors have averaged more professional experience, Scesnak said, "their knees just don't function the way they used to when they were young."

Condors player Ray Rene, left wing, echoed some of Scesnak's sentiments after the game.

"The issue is that we have relied for too long on our veterans and our Olympians," Rene said. "We struggled on the court; as we got fatigued, we were not able to keep up with them. We did figure them out, though. There was a 6-minute stretch where we were able to play them evenly."

 But it didn't last.

The championship is far from over, however, and the Condors may have a chance to redeem themselves in later games. Rene said they will try to call upon some of their mistakes against New York for the future, and he still has a lot of optimism, though not all of it is reserved for the men's team.

Immediately following the game against New York, Rene began to change into windbreaker pants and a clean shirt-the women's team he coaches (the Condor women) played about five minutes after his loss.

He enjoys both roles, he said, but he believes handball needs more support in the U.S. "to let coaches be coaches and players be players." Right now, he added, the need for quality athletes and coaches exceeds the supply. Thus, the past six weeks he's spent preparing for the tournament have been extraordinarily stressful for Rene, who is making a comeback to the sport after a three-year hiatus.

"The tournament schedule is crazy," added his wife, Amy, who has been watching her husband coach and play from the sidelines. "But his passion for the sport is overwhelming.

"You get high from it."  

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