NACHC World Championship Qualifier: USA Women’s National Team Salvages a Tie in Stirring Comeback

May 28, 2019, 8 p.m. (ET)

In as an unlikely a finish as can be imagined, the USA Women’s National Team (WNT) scored three goals in approximately two minutes to pull a rabbit out of the hat and tie mighty Greenland in game they could not afford to lose.  The opening game of the North American and Caribbean Handball Confederation World Championships qualifier in Mexico City was a true barnburner, almost literally.  Played in the historic 1968 Mexico Olympic Training Center, temperatures on the handball court were a sweltering 90 degrees plus.

After an abbreviated opening ceremony, the teams from Greenland and the United States warmed up with obvious tension in the building and the excitement that comes with a major international tournament. Formal introductions, followed by national anthems, and it was time for Greenland to initiate the action with their opening throw-in and they didn’t waste a moment jumping out to a lead.  In fact, the usually offensive minded Americans couldn’t buy a goal in the first 6-minutes of the game, falling behind by three goals, until right-back Ashley Butler fired in a shot from about 8-meters out.

The WNT players seemed out of sorts on the offense and sputtered repeatedly with turnovers and wild shots. However, Nicole Andersen came up big and gave her first indication that she would be a scoring phenom today when she got untracked and scored the team’s second goal and then the third on a 7-meter shot, as the USA started to show some offense. Captain Sarah Gascon scored on a contested fastbreak, followed again by Andersen’s third. A goal by Kathy Darling tied the game at 6 goals apiece.  When Andersen scored her fourth goal, the Americans took their first lead, 7-6, at approximately 21:30 into the game.

The rest of the first-half was a tight defensive battle with Andersen scoring three times, the second being a 7-meter shot. The halftime score was USA 10 and Greenland 9.  Clearly the American defense kept them in the game. Holding powerful Greenland to 9 goals in a half is very impressive. Although leading, the offensive effort left much to be desired. Andersen’s 7 goals carried the team in the first half. 

The second half began as if the Americans were going to open up a lead. Julia Taylor scored followed by Andersen and optimism spread among the American fans. Yet, just as quickly Greenland stormed back. Taylor and Julia Sayer scored, but Greenland went on the attack and was able to pound in several goals to take the lead and stretch it out. Two goals, three goals, and suddenly four goals down, the Americans seemed in desperate trouble, possibly losing a critical game and threatening to knock them out of contention in the first game.

Andersen scored on two 7-meter shots and the lead was cut in half. Although Greenland once again went up by three, Jence Rhoads scored to cut it to two again.  With time winding down, the American defense rose to the occasion to limit the Greenland offense to only a few goals for the rest of the game.  Darling scored to close it to one and Greenland countered. However, Rhoads scored again, followed by Gascon to close it to 21-20. Then the defense came up huge, causing a charging foul. Gascon immediately picked up the ball and fired a long strike to a speedy Maria Vallone and the Americans had caught Greenland.

In the final minute it looked like Greenland would break the American’s heart as they deliberately and successfully found the back of the net for a 22-21 lead.  Yet, the Americans refused to roll over and die. After throwing the ball in play, they moved the ball around until Rhoads found Gascon underneath with a Greenland player holding her in a bearhug, Gascon jumped to launch a shot and was awarded a 7-meter shot.  Andersen confidently strode to the line and after making six 7-meter shots in a row, fired in the game-tying goal. With only 13 second to play, Greenland drew up a play and took the court to try to win the game. The American defense was stellar in the clutch and time ran out before Greenland could take a shot.

The American defense was strong throughout most of the game with Rhoads, Sayer, Shani Levinkind, Andersen, and Gascon, all playing exceptionally well under exhausting conditions. Zoe Lombard, Liz Hartnett, Darling, Taylor, Butler, and Vallone also made contributions to the physical America defense. Bryana Newbern played well in goal, making several important saves, and was supported by veteran Sophie Fasold.

Nicole Andersen played perhaps her best all-around game for the Americans scoring a game-high 11 goals and was a consistently tough defender.

Head Coach Christian Latiluppe was delighted with the last-minute comeback, admitting his concerns with the game, “This team doesn’t quit. They did what they needed to do when they needed to do it. I am very proud of them!”

Next up for the Americans is a Wednesday 2:00 PM game with the Canadians.  The game will be live-streamed and will be available on Comité Olímpico Mexicano Facebook page.

Scoring- Andersen (11), Gascon (2), Darling (2), Taylor (2), Rhoads (2), Butler (1), Sayer (1), Vallone (1).

Final score USA 22-Greenland 22