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"The Rookie and The Vet" - Entry 3

June 19, 2014, 12 p.m. (ET)
The veteran is preparing his mind and body for one of the toughest challenges of his handball career.

His teammate is gearing up to compete in his first ever international tournament donning the Red, White, and Blue.

One has an idea of what to expect. The other is ready for anything.

They both have their sights on the elusive Pan American Championships gold medal.

And you get to read their story as they blog their way through the experience.

Captain Jordan Fithian and first-year member of Team USA, Ebiye Udo-Udoma, present: “The Rookie and The Vet” – Blogs from the Pan American Championships

Entry #2: The Vet
June 19, 2014

Reunited and it feels so goooooooood!

There is nothing better than finally having everybody together in the same spot. After a day set back due to international travel hassle, I finally arrived and joined the rest of the team in Joinville, Brazil Monday night. Our teammate from Egypt, Adam El-Zoghby, arrived a few hours earlier, and the rest of the squad arrived the day before as originally planned. After hugs and bro-love, we set our minds towards our main goal, qualifying for Qatar. We got right after it with a practice session Tuesday morning, film Tuesday afternoon followed by another session on the hardwood Tuesday night. The guys who have been grinding away for the last week in Auburn were thrilled to have some fresh faces and new energy. Everybody was in agreement that both sessions on Tuesday were much more productive and intense than recent practices. This is not surprising and usually happens the first day everybody is together. Having a full roster usually creates more enthusiasm and the energy level is raised significantly, which in turn generates more productive sessions on the court. We need that to continue all week if we want to have a chance next week in Uruguay.

The accommodations here in Brazil have been above the norm we’ve come to expect on these trips. Hotel 10 is great; the Wi-Fi is decent, the TV has all the World Cup games, the shower has pressure and hot water, the toilet flushes, the AC is cold, and the sheets are crisp and changed daily. The café next door is tasty and convenient and most importantly, has plenty of food to feed the savages we become when taking part in double sessions. Coffee is top notch and the hotel even has a washing machine that is free. Unfortunately there is no dryer, only a super spin cycle on the washer. The Rookie, having apparently never done laundry, at least in a foreign machine, isn’t aware of the spin cycle and its usefulness, as his first attempt at washing team practice gear ended with the guys getting their stuff back clean, but dripping wet. We’ll make sure to give Ebiye another opportunity to get it right later this week.

We had our first friendly match against Brazil Wednesday night. Although I had never personally played against them in my career before, I’ve had the opportunity to watch them play at numerous tournaments and have seen them and Argentina dominate every Pan American competition since I’ve been around. They are the cream of the crop, the standard in our region, and they play at the level we would like to be at in the near future. Wednesday afternoon we had a productive tactics meeting and talked about working on what we need to get better at while also game-planning for the Brazilians.

The game went as expected, at least from my standpoint. We looked much better than any game in Mexico City (Nor.Ca Qualifier) and competed very well. The final tally was 32-20 but we were only down five at half with a few missed seven meters and other opportunities. The game was very physical; the refs let us play which was actually a relief. I think it will be called tighter during the tournament as it normally is in our region, but the physical play quickly introduced the new guys and reminded the old guys that this is a contact sport not for the faint of heart. Our focus was on defense and stopping their counter attack and we were rather successful in these areas. Turnovers hurt us throughout the game but nowhere near the level that they have in recent tournaments. All 14 Team USA players saw the court for decent amounts of time and I believe many of the younger/newer guys got a feel for the level of play that we will need to be at to meet our goals next week. We have many areas to improve upon but overall the experience was good. All of the young guys showed signs of being able to compete at this level and in fact had a five minute span in the second half where they caused numerous Brazilian turnovers and had the Brazilians flustered and discombobulated on defense. Both goalies made big saves and looked in top form. The point of these friendlies is to gain confidence, learn, and continue to grow, and we’re accomplishing that. We are not satisfied with where we are at but we are making steps in the right direction and the attitudes have remained positive and upbeat.

We get another crack against the Brazilians on Friday with a day in between to continue to get better and make improvements. Film on Thursday should be enlightening. We practice Thursday afternoon after film with the goal of making improvements across the board and continuing to find that comfort level with each other. The positive attitudes and team spirit continue to be good and I can only hope that continues.

A short aside: The overwhelming support for the Men’s National Team in the World Cup is encouraging. I can remember driving to Dallas 20 years ago and attending a game during that World Cup. As I recall, tickets were cheap and easy to come by and although it may have been a different story for USA games, the enthusiasm and general consensus in America was “What’s the World Cup?” and/or “Who cares?” The only people who cared or followed soccer at that point were soccer die-hards and ex pats (similar to handball now). That is no longer the case and it is my dream that USA Team Handball can reach a similar level in the next 20 years. The support on social media and with gatherings around the country was incredible (Shout-out to my home state with the best celebration that’s gone viral from the PnL District in KC!!).

How did soccer do that? The easiest answer is success. Grassroots, plans, bigger budgets, and all that other jazz obviously played a part as well but the most glaring change was the fact that the US started winning games and being competitive on an international level. We have a chance to start doing that next week. A good showing in Uruguay, qualifying for the World Championships next January would perhaps start generating an interest in the USA from more than just the handball community.

As always, we hope all is well back home and thank everybody for the continued support. The games next week will be live-streamed. They are charging $10 for a pass for the entire tournament or $5 a day. One can only hope that if they are going to charge that the quality will be much better than it has been in the past. The link for the live-stream is below. This page also has all the details on the draw, the game times and dates and some other useful information.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Pan_American_Men%27s_Handball_Championship
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