Team USA Wins Nor.Ca Bronze with Stunning Comeback

April 06, 2015, 6:39 p.m. (ET)
By: Dave Gascon
USA Team Handball Director of High Performance

The USA Women’s National Team erupted from a 14-10 halftime deficit to beat the favored Greenland Women’s Team, 27-23, in the San Juan Convention Center on Sunday, April 5.

The usual combination of balanced scoring contributed to an excellent start for the Team USA, yet they were never able to shake Greenland or reach a two-goal lead. Ashley Van Ryn, Kathy Darling, Sarah Gascon, Julia Taylor, and Liz Hartnett, initiated a favorable offensive output for the U.S. Women, but Greenland fought back to tie the game at nine, and then took the lead.

Although Greenland was up at halftime, they had to work hard to earn their goals as Team USA played tough defense throughout the first half. The U.S. Women’s defense, led by Tomuke “T” Ebuwei, Jence Rhoads, Sarah Gascon, and Ashley Van Ryn, kept the score close even though the offense periodically sputtered and suffered several turnovers.

Down 14-10 going into the second half, Coach Christian Latulippe employed a strategy for which Greenland seemed unprepared. Latulippe deployed back Jennifer Farrar as a defensive specialist, with the specific mission of denying the ball from Greenland’s vaunted center back Najaaja Lyberth. For a full 15 minutes of the 30 minute half, Farrar kept Lyberth from coordinating the Greenland offense. In the meantime, the U.S. offense converted their opportunities to goals and seized the lead.

Greenland, a team that outscored eventual Nor.Ca gold medalist Cuba, 16-14, in the second-half of yesterday’s game, struggled offensively with the team’s offensive leader neutralized. Midway through the half, Gascon shifted from her interior defensive position to take over from Farrar, also expressly to deny Lyberth the ball. As a result, Greenland’s high scoring backs, Lykke Frank Hansen and Mia Rasmussen, were held to four goals apiece for the entire game.

As time ran down, Greenland could find no counter to the USA defensive strategy. Their offense struggled while timely goals were scored by Darling and Van Ryn. Van Ryn scored a big goal near the two minute mark, and Darling put the game on ice with a blistering 9-meter shot from her right back position.

When Greenland launched its last scoring attempt, the Americans blocked the effort, recovered the ball, and ran out the last few seconds before a wild burst of celebration. Darling ended with a game high nine goals and Van Ryn added seven, leading the American offensive production.

The Team USA Women became a topic of much discussion during the tournament, since few expected them to be as competitive. Recent years were marked by unsuccessful campaigns as players who perhaps knew one another, but seldom played together for any significant practice time, were often run off the court by better-conditioned and more skilled teams.

However, that has all changed with the establishment of a residency program as a result of a partnership between USA Team Handball and Auburn University. USA National Team players of both genders now practice together throughout the year, supported by personnel coordinated by the Auburn University School of Kinesiology, with strength training and conditioning programming, and physical therapy and rehabilitative services provided by RehabWorks.

The U.S. Women will enjoy a well-deserved week off after an exhausting six games in seven days. They will return to practice at Auburn University in mid-April as they prepare for the Pan American Championships which begin in Cuba on May 22.

Final Score: USA – 27, GRL – 23

Goals: USA – Darling (9), Van Ryn (7), Gascon (3), Taylor (3), Hartnett (2), Farrar (1), Lombard (1), Rhoads (1)
Goals: GRL – Lyberth (5), Frank Hansen (4), Rasmussen (4), Berthelsen (3), Steenholdt (3), Groenvold (2), S. Lyberth (1), Mikkelsen (1)

Notes: 
– Cuba defeated Mexico in the gold medal game, 34-25, to claim first place in the Nor.Ca tournament. Host Puerto Rico defeated Martinique, 27-18, to claim 5th place.

– The Pan American Team Handball Federation announced that all five Pan American teams in the Nor.Ca Qualifier (i.e., all but Martinique) will advance to the 2015 Women's Pan American Championship (May 22-29, 2015). Originally, the tournament served as a qualification tournament for the Championship, but now all North American and Caribbean teams from this tournament will advance. The Pan American Championship will be hosted by Cuba.
 
- 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.