April 01, 2017, 10:24 p.m. (ET)

        A Shocking Turn of Events, WNT’s Stunning Comeback


Some stories are by circumstance hard to tell.  Take Thursday night’s USA Women’s National Team’s (WNT) incredible comeback against Puerto Rico in their first game in the 2017 NorCa. qualifier for the upcoming Pan American Championships.  Following a lengthy Opening Ceremonies Event featuring the local mayor and several dignitaries, Puerto Rico, the host country and a participant in the most recent Women’s World Championships, was loudly cheered by an overflow crowd of admiring spectators as they took the court.  The USA WNT was an obvious underdog, featured several young players without any international experience, and had not played in many matches over the past year.  

What actually happened defies description and is unlike anything longtime USA Team Handball associates have seen in many years, if ever.  The WNT rallied from a significant deficit at halftime to storm back into the game and pull off a stunning upset, 28-26.  Yet, it was how they did it that will long be remembered.

This feature match had all the trappings of a blowout waiting to happen.  And, as the game unfolded, all went according to script.  Puerto Rico opened up a quick 2-0 lead and stretched it continuously.  The Americans picked up a few goals here and there, but were outplayed in every aspect of the game.  Kathy Darling racked up a couple of goals to get the USA women on the scoreboard, but Puerto Rico showed no signs of looking back.  Darling later added a third before halftime.

The Puerto Ricans easily capitalized on a variety of American mistakes, and there were many, quickly scoring in transition as they finished fast breaks with pinpoint shooting.  Team USA tried to counter as Jence Rhoads, Shani Levinkind and Nicole Andersen each contributed two goals, and Julia Taylor, Ashley Butler scoring one goal each before halftime.  Defense is usually a hallmark of USA National Teams, but the first half featured a porous defense and reckless offense, a terrible combination. Puerto Rico enjoyed a huge 17-11 halftime lead and the crowd roared its approval as the teams left the floor.

As the second half began, the USA displayed the defense they have demonstrated in the past, physically imposing, both fast and quick, as well as disciplined.  Goalkeeper Bryana Newbern was brilliant and the combination of outstanding defense and Newbern, stopped Puerto Rico, time after time.  Team USA converted on their offensive opportunities and stormed to a 7-1 opening to tie the game at 18.  Goals by Darling, Andersen, and Captain Sarah Gascon, brought silence to the packed house as Puerto Rican confidence was shaken and the shock led to grave concern in the crowd.  

Puerto Rico is a fine team and although suffering a stunning turn-around at the beginning of the second half, they were not going to rollover and give up.  They fought tenaciously and tried to be as physical as the Americans.  Goals by Zoe Lombard, and Butler supplemented the firepower of top scores Darling and Andersen and the USA charged to a 24-21 advantage.  Yet the host country came back and tied the game at 24.  

The USA was not to be denied this comeback as they would grab a lead, get tied, and grab the lead once again.  Goals by Andersen, Taylor, Darling, and Lombard built the American lead to 28-26 as time expired.  

The opening ceremonies of the tournament, the dignitaries, the overflow crowd, and the noise and fanfare of the event, were totally forgotten.  What will be remembered by all in attendance will be how the Americans stormed back for a stunning victory.

Head Coach Christian Latulippe was quick to praise the outstanding defense and goalkeeping which gave up only nine goals in the second half, while Team USA racked up 17.  As inconsistent as his team was with a dozen turnovers in the first half, they had only a few in the second.  “The ladies played up to their capabilities in that second half,” Latulippe explained.  “We should all be proud of the heart they demonstrated as we fought back in this game.”

Next up for the WNT will be a strong Greenland team at 5:30 PM (EST).  Although this game is not likely to be livestreamed, there is the possibility that Greenland may link the game on Facebook.

Scoring- Darling (7), Andersen (6), Lombard (3), Butler (3), Rhoads (3), Gascon (2), Taylor (2), Levinkind (2).