The journey to the US National Championships began on Thursday the 14th of May. Chicago Inter HC traveled with three teams (Women, Men Elite-Black, Men Open-Yellow) to York, PA to fight for the medals with the top teams of the country.
Well, let`s take one step back. Actually the journey started much earlier. The Inter Men`s team participated in various tournaments and scrimmages throughout the US this season, with top results. Our Women`s team struggled with the preparation and could not find many playing opportunities to test themselves. Nevertheless this missing preparation was compensated with skill and passion throughout the tournament as you will soon know more about… But let`s start at the beginning.
The players arrived throughout Thursday night, some were coming in later because of their jobs and some were able to spend some hours in the hotel pool. On Friday morning everybody was highly concentrated and was looking forward to best-in-class handball. Each team was scheduled for two games on the first day.
Inter Black and the Women teams were the first to show what they have practiced for the whole year in an early 9:00am round of games. The Elite team was able to control the game from the first minute and won the game 21:19 against West Point. The Women’s team got off to a slow start was dominated by a strong NYC team, losing 22:11. In the Open Division, the first match for Inter Yellow was against the US deaf team, the DC Silencers. They were in good condition and carried the game the whole way, which ended for the Yellow team in a 23:14 loss.
In the afternoon the Black team was ready to go into the toughest match of the group, NYAC. Chicago beat them in October to win their home tournament, but still wanted payback for what happened on the big stage in Reno last year. Inter’s 2014 bid for gold ended against NYAC (Semi-Finals) after three overtimes and a penalty shoot-out. So the team was in the mood to put that right. Unfortunately also this time it was not able to beat the strong team of NYAC and the end score was 23:19 in a close game. Another pain point in that game was that Bojan Arnautovic was out for the tournament with an injury on his right leg (calf). The Women team was up next against the DC Diplomats, after the first loss the target was clear, we need a win to stay in the championship race! In a point-to-point game the Inter team was able to come up ahead in the end and won with a score of 21:20. Our Open division team was facing the team of the University of Virginia. They were able to gain control of the game soon and did not lose it throughout the game which was ending in a clear win of 18:12.
So all three teams have finished the first day with 1 win and 1 loss. Not great, not bad, but plenty of room for improvement.
The first game of the day was played by our Women’s team. In an early morning game against the Cal-Heat Smurfs they were able to gain control of the game with a strong defense and goalie combination which ended with a win of 15:8. At the same time also the Yellow team was having their first game against the second team of NYC. This was a tough opponent and a better team on this day, the guys lost 14:22. The Elite team was next and had their most important game so far. A win meant advancement to the Semi-Finals and a loss meant a trip to the lower bracket for places 5 through 8. The same target as the day before for the girls, win whatever it costs! But it ended completely differently, instead of dominating the game the Black team was always one step behind against the well-prepared team from DC. The match ended in a big loss for Chicago of 21:32. That loss definitely hurt and as the later tournament course will show, the guys were not able to recover from that. The Yellow team was facing another university team from Penn State and they were able to pull out a win of 23:17.
Our girls were now heading into their most exciting and difficult games, both of them were strong opponents with LA and Carolina (largely made up of players from the USA Women’s National Team). The calculation was simple, win both games and play the US Championship the next day. Win one game, and play for a 3rd place medal. Let`s keep a long story short, our Women team played amazingly well and was able to win both games (LA 18:13 – Carolina 17:15). So they were again in the final of the US National Championships and guess what, the team of NYC was waiting for them, but more on that later.
Meanwhile, the Black and Yellow team played their games. The Elite team was again not able to perform on their level and lost against a strong United HC team 21:31. Also, the Yellow team was not able to squeeze a win out of their close game against Ohio which ended 16:19.
To sum up the day… The Women team was on a streak on Saturday and ended the day with a score of 3:0. The Black team was facing a big disappointment by not reaching the Semi-Finals and ending the day with 0:2. The Yellow team finished with a solid score of 2:1.
The Inter Yellow team was facing the Orlando team in the game of the 11th place. Here again the Yellow team was performing well but unfortunately lost in a close game 15:16.
The Black team had a well-known opponent in their last game for the 7th place, West Point. The only team they were able to win against during this weekend. Somehow our guys were not able to find their rhythm and fell 22:29.
The game of the day was of course the final of the Inter women against NYC. The guys, even having just lost both of their games, created an atmosphere in the gym which was close to a home game in Chicago, which made it fun to watch and play.
In the beginning the ladies struggled to find their offense but were always close with an average difference of around 2 goals. With the support of the fans and once again a strong defense/goalie combination they were able to turn the game for the first time close to the end of the first half. This advantage was carried on throughout the game and steadily controlled by a strong Inter team in the second half. Inter continued to get stronger throughout the game and showed their determination and experience.
The final score was 23:17 and we are happy to congratulate the Chicago Inter Women’s Team as the 2015 USA Handball Champions, for the fifth time since 2007.
Beside the championship title, we had a lot of other things to celebrate in the Women’s team:
- MVG Jacque Messel
- MVP Irina Irimia
- Top Scorer (4th) Jolanta Kunickaite (27 Goals)
- Top Scorer (5th) Irina Irimia (25 Goals)
In the Men’s Elite division Alexander Lohr was the overall 6th top scorer with 24 Goals.
We also would like to congratulate NYC for winning the Elite Division and the 2015 USA Championship title. They played well all weekend and made it clear that they deserved the title.
The win of our girls compensated for a lot of disappointment in the other games and divisions and bringing the trophy back to Chicago after a second place finish last year definitely felt good.
One last message: York had better be ready for us in 2016 when Chicago Inter HC will return even stronger to fight for the medals once again.