Michael Cavanaugh Leads Colorado-Based Team to Korea for World University Games

By Mike Cavanaugh | July 17, 2015, 6:30 p.m. (ET)

The 28th World University Games were staged in Gwangju, Korea from July 3 – 13, 2015. USA was represented in 21 sports. For example, men’s basketball was represented by the Kansas University basketball team, men’s water polo was represented by UCLA and the women’s water polo team was represented by Stanford while the men’s baseball team was represented by Cal State Fullerton.

Men’s team handball was funded by the Daniels Fund – a Colorado Foundation supporting, amongst other things, sports in the Colorado, Wyoming and New Mexico areas. The U.S. Air Force Academy men’s team handball club fit the profile for funding and while funding was being confirmed, the cadets all began the process to seek approval to participate from their military commanders. The cadets who were approved all had to take personal leave and have a solid academic record. 11 USAFA cadets were approved and we were able to add Chris Hesser, who attended Colorado State University, as the 12th player. I was able to serve as their coach and I too took vacation time to serve in this capacity.

The World University Games (WUG) has an age limit of 28 years of age for athletes and they must be enrolled in a legitimate degree program, with minimal courses being taken to be eligible to compete. It was my personal experience that many nations use the WUG as an event for their junior national teams. This was confirmed to be the case for team handball in the 2015 WUG as teams were very strong technically and tactically. Some teams were a mix of senior and junior national team members. They were also well motivated to prove themselves for future junior and senior national team involvement.

As a disclaimer, the USA team handball team was the youngest of all teams participating, averaging 21.3 years of age compared to the Russian team that averaged 25.3 years of age. We had the least amount of players (3 goalies and 9 court players) and the smallest staff = 1! The village, food, security, Opening Ceremonies, venues, referees, transportation, etc., were all staged at an impressively high level. The USA handball team was able to borrow uniforms from the National Team program in Auburn and they wore the USA proudly.

In anticipation of not having much preparation and training time prior to the event, I had arranged to have friendly matches with both Lithuania and Japan prior to competition. There was originally 14 nations entered in men’s handball but on June 23rd, the CZH Republic withdrew from participation and the schedule was re-worked and we were placed in a group of 7 and another group of six. Lithuania and Japan were not in our original group and once the new groups were formed the only chance for a friendly match prior to competition was with Lithuania. We spoke openly with the Lithuanians and told them we were very inexperienced and would still welcome the match with them and they agreed. Attached is a group team photo taken after the controlled friendly match refereed by myself and an assistant coach from Lithuania. It was a wake-up call for USA as the speed of the match was very high and their skill level vastly exceeded ours. There was no running score kept but we were beaten soundly – especially with counter attacks.

Following the friendly match with Lithuania, we had a day of training before competition beginning on July 6th. The new schedule had the USA opening with Korea on July 6 with a day of rest on July 7 followed by five games in a row on July 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12! The match results were:

July 6: KOR 49 - USA 20 Korea was a mix of JNT athletes and at least two SNT athletes. They were highly motivated playing in their first match at home.
July 8: RUS 46 – USA 18 Very large players – the feeling was that if we couldn’t see the goal, how could we score?
July 9: LIT 53 – USA 22 Goal differential was a motivating factor.
July 10: MEX 34 –USA 18 I asked the coach after the match how many of the MEX team would be playing in the Pan Am Games had they qualified and he said over half
July 11: TUR 33 – USA 19 Very strong team at all positions
July 12: SRB 44 – USA 24 It was 17-13 at half and we played tough but were exhausted and thin at the bench. SRB won the Silver Medal the next day losing to POR in the final. The fact that we could score 24 goals against a strong defense and very good goal keepers spoke to our tenacity.

Men’s Results:

Women’s Results

USA Roster:
2LT – Drew Donlin
2LT – Mitch Dobson
2LT – Ryan Tucker
2LT – Connor Lee
2LT – Jarod Washington
CIC – Westley Williams
CIC – Jonathan Graham
C2C – Peter Murray
C2C – Nickolas Featherston
C2C – Dylan Moore
C2C – Austin Flues
 Chris Hesser
Coach – Michael D. Cavanaugh

At the end of the day, the entire experience was wonderful and the team members were all great ambassadors for the sport within the USA delegation and within the team handball competition in general. We drew high praise for our behavior on and off the court. We were outclassed from the get- go in terms of skill level, experience and individual technique but we made the most of each moment and experience!

Mike Cavanaugh
2015 World University Games Team USA Head Coach
CEO, USA Team Handball
Team USA broke the team record for most medals in World University Games History. Read the entire story on www.WUGUSA.com.