The U.S. men's national handball team poses for a photo after winning the 2022 NACHC Handball Championships on June 30, 2022 in Mexico City.
Gary Hines shed a few tears, and the other members of the U.S. men’s handball team understood why he was crying.
Hines had explained to his teammates how much it would mean to him, at age 38, to help the Americans qualify for the 2023 IHF World Men’s Championship.
After everything that had happened over the past few years, Hines didn’t bother hiding his emotions on June 30.
He wanted to appreciate the moment after the U.S. capped an unexpected run in the Men’s North American & Caribbean Handball Confederation Handball Championships with a 33-26 win over Greenland in the championship game in Mexico City.
“For me, it was very emotional because it was the first time since I’ve been a part of the national team since I was 18 that we’ve actually qualified for world championships by being able to beat other teams, not just because ‘Yeah, you get a wildcard’ or ‘Yeah, you’re the host country’ or whatever,” Hines said. “But we earned it, so it was very emotional for me.”
The victory was both a relief and a bit of redemption for the U.S. men’s handball team after it was forced to withdraw at the last minute from the 2021 IHF World Men’s Championship in Egypt because of a coronavirus outbreak on the team.
The Americans weren’t considered the favorites heading into the four-team Men’s NACHC Handball Championships, and it didn’t help that several of their players felt ill while in Mexico City for the tournament.
However, the U.S. won four matches in five days to earn a spot in next year’s world championships, which will be held Jan. 11-29 in Poland and Sweden.
Along the way, the Americans showed that they have the potential to be competitive in men’s handball, especially with the Olympic Games Paris 2024 only two years away.
“I think our strength is that we can do a little bit of everything,” said Darrick Heath, a 1996 Olympian who’s now an assistant coach on for the U.S. “We can defend. We can score. Our goalkeepers, we have two very strong goalkeepers (in Rene Ingram and Pál Merkovszki) that play really well.
“I think that the closeness of this group also has a lot to do with it as far as that’s concerned. So I’d say it’s a combination of all three things that really makes us very effective.”
Heath understands the significance of the U.S. qualifying for the world championships.
He was a star player for the Americans the last time they made the world championships in 2001 in France. It was the last of his three world championship appearances.
“The future is very bright. It’s always nice to have very young talent in our program,” Heath said. “We have a very nice, skilled group of athletes, so we’re looking forward to the future.”