Team USA Secures Trip To Cuba, Eyes Nor.Ca Bronze Medal

April 04, 2015, 11:59 p.m. (ET)
By: Dave Gascon
USA Team Handball Director of High Performance

USA Team Handball’s Women’s National Team entered the game against the Martinique National Team with a very clear directive from Head Coach Christian Latulippe: Play a tight, relentless defense.

And defend they did.

The Team USA Women defeated Martinique 24-21 on the final day of round-robin match-ups in the Pan American Championship Nor.Ca Qualifier. Team USA will play the bronze medal match against the powerful Greenland Women’s National Team at 1 pm (EST) on Sunday, April 5, 2015, in the Centro de Convenciones de Puerto Rico (Convention Center; San Juan, Puerto Rico), as part of the Puerto Rican Olympic Cup.

For the first time in the Nor.Ca Cup, the U.S. Women were dominant to start a match. They streaked to a 7-2 lead, with goals by Sarah Gascon, Liz Hartnett, Julia Taylor, Ashley Van Ryn, and Jence Rhoads.

Team USA allowed Martinique to claw their way back into the game behind a flurry of American turnovers and missed opportunities. The first half ended 11-11, much to the frustration of the coaching staff and the players, who clearly felt they should have gotten a large lead.

In spite of the unsatisfactory offense late in the first half, the defense was tenacious throughout. Tomuke “T” Ebuwei, Gascon, and Rhoads were extraordinarily physical and crafty, as they kept a very strong Martinique offense at bay. Assisting in the strong defensive effort were wings Taylor and Hartnett, and backs Van Ryn and Kathy Darling.

In the second half, Team USA opened strongly and captured a lead they would not surrender. The scoring was very balanced--wings Hartnett and Taylor each scored five goals, many off outlet passes from goalkeeper Sophie Fasold and great assists by Gascon.

The USA pressure defense resulted in many steals by Ebuwei, and numerous deflected Martinique passes were converted to offensive possessions for Team USA. The Americans kept the charging Martinique squad off-balance and forced them to shoot from well beyond their customary favorite locations within the 9-meter area.

Farida Abou-Zeda saw lengthy time on the court and rewarded her coach with three goals. Darling, Gascon, and Van Ryn, also contributed three goals apiece, and Rhoads rounded out the Team USA scoring with a pair of her own.

“I am really happy for these players,” Coach Latulippe commented he orchestrated the victory which g a chance to compete for third. “They have committed themselves to our Auburn University-based Residency Program and they have earned the right to represent the United States in the Pan Am Championships. We have a great blend of veterans and new players who are learning the game at an accelerated pace due to the Residency Program. This team is getting better week to week, and over the past year the transformation into a competitive team is remarkable.”

Today's match against Greenland promises to be another physical battle. Greenland and the United States tied 26-26 in the opening Nor.Ca match, then tied Mexico (20:20) before narrowly defeating both Puerto Rico (27:26) and Martinique (22:19). Yesterday, Greenland lost to Cuba, the class of the field, 32-24, but outscored Cuba in the second half of the game, 16-14. No country demonstrated the ability to hold this Cuba in check for any half of a match before yesterday in the Nor.Ca Qualifier.

Final Score: USA – 24, MTQ - 21

Goals: USA – Taylor (5), Hartnett (5), Abou-Zeda (3), Darling (3), Gascon (3), Van Ryn (3), Rhoads (2)
Goals: MTQ – Jaune (6), Liroy (4), Zide (3), Jean-Philippe (2), Bivard (2), Valony (1), Blezes (1), Alamelu (1), Marthely (1) 

Notes:
– Team USA remains in 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.
 
- 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 has not broadcast the Nor.Ca matches. Plans for broadcasting the match on Sunday, if any, have yet to be announced.