The Real Puerto Rican Recap Day 5 by Lisa Dunn
The USA Team Handball Women's National Team competed in a friendly tournament in Puerto Rico last week. Team USA competed against teams from Puerto Rico, Guadeloupe, and the Dominican Republic.
You could read a third-person recount of the matches. Or you could read the real report from someone with a front-row seat to the action, Women's National Team player, Lisa Dunn.
On the last day of competition, Coach Christian (Team USA Women's National Team head coach) organized a real treat for us: a practice with the visiting French professional team, Guadeloupe. The atmosphere was very fun, friendly, and light hearted while both teams warmed up together. Everyone had big smiles on their faces. Coaches paired one USA player with one player from Guadeloupe for the well-known handball warm up game of “Yugo,” which is essentially an enhanced version of tag, where the girls had to communicate with their partner through the language barrier in an effort to come out victorious! The coaches then split up the groups into four teams of six and had two simultaneous half-court games (USA vs Guadeloupe). This proved to be very valuable as both teams were able to practice offensive adjustments against the defensive formations expected to be played against them in the upcoming games. After the fast paced practice, both teams formed a big circle to cool down and stretch together, exchanged shirts, and wished each other luck with a combined cheer in the center of the court.
Our game today was played in the city Mayaguez, about two hours away from the Olympic training center. We all hopped on an old school bus, shared with a group of kids from a nearby school, which made the ride rather lively. We arrived about four hours before game-time, and our driver was so kind as to show us a local outdoor market where we could buy souvenirs and enjoy some Puerto Rican culture. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't in our favor and a lot of the little stands were rained out, so we didn't spend too much time shopping. Plus, I could tell everyone wanted to go back to the gym as soon as possible to get ready for the big game, a rematch against Puerto Rico.
About an hour before game time, Coach Christian gathered the team for a pre-game pep talk. His message was clear: stay positive, encourage each other whether on the bench or in the game, enjoy and celebrate the victories we have on the court, and keep our excitement up for the whole 60 minutes of the game.
After the opening fiesta held to celebrate both teams with the announcement of the players and the playing of the national anthems of Puerto Rico and USA, the crowd let us know they were very excited to see their National Team compete against us. There was even a little band in the stands playing chants and rhythms native to the area. However, we stepped on the court unfazed, standing tall.
In previous games this week, I had seen a big problem with our game starts. We always seemed to be playing catch-up or having an equal score; this game showed me a very different side of our team. With well-executed plays lead by center back Jennifer Fithian, we jumped ahead by six goals in the first 20 minutes. Puerto Rico knew they had to adjust fast if they wanted to stay in the game. A time out was called by Puerto Rico and once the game restarted, they showed a more aggressive defense, moving into a 4-2 formation. We kept our composure even after a two minute penalty and playing a man down for the final minutes of the first half, managing to hold onto a five-goal lead when the buzzer sounded after the first 30 minutes of play.
The second half started off fast on in favor of Puerto Rico. They gained momentum with a few fast-break goals off of forced turnovers, and chipped away at the lead we had built in the first half. The unlucky run of hitting post four times on the goal of Puerto Rico was finally broken by a beautiful counter attack goal scored by USA left wing, Julia Taylor. But after that goal, only two goals ahead, Team USA struggled with executing shots, attacking gaps and finishing plays that we did so well with in the first half. The Puerto Rican crowd’s excitement increased as their team began closing in on us. With loud cheers and regained confidence, Puerto Rico managed to break away with the lead at the end of the game.
It truly was a heart-breaking loss and as I was wrapping ice on my injured teammates, I struggled with finding comforting words to say. Everyone left all they had that day on the court, and I couldn't have been prouder to be a part of this team. Yes, the loss hurt, but there was no denying the positive strides Team USA had made this week in Puerto Rico. We will return home having gained valuable experience and renewed purpose as we continue to push forward towards our goal of qualifying for the 2015 World Championships and 2016 Summer Olympic Games.