USA Women Up Against the World-Class Hungarian Club Team

Aug. 20, 2017, 6 p.m. (ET)

The USA Team Handball Women’s National Team (WNT) challenged a top-notch Division One Hungarian Club Team, ERD-Hungary, the second heavyweight competitor in two days.  While the WNT didn’t emerge as a victor, they proved once again that they are not intimidated by facing world-class athletes and teams.  The Hungarian athletes, tall, agile, sculpted to an astonishingly fit level, took the court like the thoroughbreds that they are.  As the fairly good-sized Americans walked out to meet them, the size difference was obvious.

As the game began, it was clear the Hungarians would try to out-physical the Americans and run them off the court with fast break efforts every time they got the ball.  They appeared relentless and confident.  Yet, some very interesting things were apparent quickly.  Sophie Fasold was sharp in goal for the USA and made several exceptional stops to keep the game close and frustrate the Hungarians.  In fact, as great as the Hungarians played, they were not finishing their attacks. 

Zoe Lombard opened up the scoring for the USA followed by Nicole Andersen.  The Hungarians pressed the tempo, but Ashley Van Ryn scored followed by a 7-meter shot by Kathy Darling and the USA was encouraged that they would be competitive.  The Hungarians opened up a lead, but the USA fought back with goals from Ashley Butler, Nicole Andersen, and Jence Rhoads.  The Hungarians then capitalized on a couple of turnovers and stretched their lead, only to have Butler and Liz Hartnett score to close the gap.  When Darling fired in another 7-meter shot, the half ended at a stunning 13-10 lead for the Hungarians.

Sarah Gascon and Jennifer Fithian were stellar as they fought for positioning in the pivot.  They were double-teamed by a 6-5 and 6-2 tandem of solid defenders.  It was like watching NFL interior line play, worthy of special attention.  On defense, the Americans played very well.  Rhoads, Fithian, Gascon, and Andersen had a heavy burden up against very impressive physical specimens.  Yet, the Americans held their own.  With Fasold making 5 saves behind them, the WNT left the court confident they were in the match.

As the second half opened, the Hungarians again looked to run and open up a lead, but the USA would not fold.  Andersen and Rhoads scored followed by a pair from Van Ryn, kept the Americans close.  Hungary opened up a little daylight, but Darling and Lisa Dunn scored to keep the lead from widening too much.  While the game was not out of reach, the Hungarians proved to be worthy of their reputation and the bigger and stronger team did not squander their lead, and continued to slightly open it up.

As time ran down the lead opened to a more comfortable 9-goal lead, but the Americans continued to fight.  Liz Hartnett scored the last American goal to make it 26-17.  Hungary had one last opportunity to finish the game with a ten-goal victory when they were awarded a 7-meter shot with 5 seconds to play.  Coach Christian Latulippe took the opportunity to give his rookie goal keeper Sanna Wheeler a baptism under fire by sending her in to face the daunting challenge of stopping a top professional from scoring.  Wheeler, who caught everyone’s attention during her tryout at Auburn University not too many months ago, proved she is everything the staff thought of her by getting her right hand on the shot to thwart the scoring chance.  The final score was a remarkable 26-17.  The USA WNT once again demonstrated they are continuing to improve against better competition.  Next up for Team USA is a solid second division club from Aalbor, Denmark.