Taylor and Fasold Lead U.S. to First 2015 Nor.Ca Victory

April 03, 2015, 2 p.m. (ET)
By: Dave Gascon
USA Team Handball Director of High Performance

SALINAS, Puerto Rico – 
The USA Women’s National Team (WNT) tasted victory in international competition for the first time in the Nor.Ca Qualifier with a 33-29 win over host Puerto Rico.

The American team has played well in the Nor.Ca tournament so far, chasing a berth in the upcoming Pan Am Championships in Cuba. However, before the match against host Puerto Rico, Team USA had only a tie against a very strong Greenland team to show for their efforts, losing to both Cuba (35-15) and Mexico (33-29).

Playing in front of a large and very noisy crowd, the WNT again started slowly, but not in the very poor manner of the previous night’s loss to Mexico. After watching the Puerto Rican WNT jump into the lead, the United States quickly struck back. The remarkable part of Team USA’s performance was that they overcame turnovers and mistakes, and they made the most of many fast-break opportunities.

USA left wing Julia Taylor had a big night, scoring a game-high nine goals. Taylor ran the court well, fired shots from the wing, and her timely goals often stopped Puerto Rico before they could make a run.

Team USA played well with the lead throughout the game. Goals by Taylor, Ashley Van Ryn, Jence Rhoads, Kathy Darling, and Sarah Gascon, resulted in a 19-15 lead at halftime.

The second half start was satisfactory, with Puerto Rico unable to catch the U.S. in the opening minutes. Timely goals were supplied by every member of the U.S. starting lineup in a classic display of balanced scoring. Taylor continued her productivity, as Van Ryn, Darling, Rhoads, and Gascon, capitalized on their scoring opportunities. Other Team USA wings Zoe Lombard and Desiree Nguyen fired in a couple goals as well.

Defensive specialist Tomuke “T” Ebuwei played a stellar defensive game, thwarting many Puerto Rican attacks and forced many turnovers. She also cashed in on a couple of her own shots on the offensive end of the floor. The U.S. interior defense was particular strong behind major efforts by Ebuwei, Gascon, Rhoads, Darling, and Van Ryn. USA goalkeeper Sophie Fasold was outstanding in the goal, recording 15 saves and helping Team USA maintain the lead with big save after big save.

All teams will enjoy a day off Friday, and the tournament will continue at the Centro de Convenciones (Convention Center) in San Juan, on Saturday, April 4. The USA will challenge a large and very physical team from Martinique at 3:00 pm (EST).

Final Score: USA – 33, PUR - 29

Goals: USA – Taylor (9), Van Ryn (6), Darling (5), Gascon (4), Rhoads (4), Ebuwei (2), Lombard (2), Nguyen (1).
Goals: PUR – Ceballo (7), Hiraldo (7), Maldonado (5), Garcia (4), Fuentes (3), Cabrera (2), Vergara (1) 

– As a result of the win, Team USA moves into 4th place in the Nor.Ca. At the conclusion of the Qualifier, Cuba and the top three teams will advance to the 2015 Women's Pan American Championship (May 22-29, 2015). Cuba advances to the Championship tournament regardless of their finish in the Qualifier since they will be the Championship tournament host.

– Team USA has not competed against the Women's Team from Martinique in recent memory, but the match is expected to be tightly contested. Martinique currently sits in 5th place and only six aggregate goals separate the two teams' goal differences.
- USA Team Handball would like to thank Women's National Team player, Elizabeth Hartnett for coordinating a broadcast of the match via Livestream.com using her phone and a cellular connection. USATH would also like to thank her brother, Ryan, for live-tweeting during the match. You can follow his tweets at @RPCHreport on Twitter. The Puerto Rico Handball Federation did not broadcast the Nor.Ca matches at Albergue Olimpico since there is no wireless internet in the competition venue. Plans for broadcasting from the Convention Center, if any, have yet to be announced.