12 months have passed and San Francisco CalHeat closed the 2017/18 season like none in the past. A few years ago, our club envisioned a long and ambitious growing process and, with the arrival of a hardworking and talented core group, started to put it in effect.
Last summer, one of our women team players, now board member, Michelle Mensing, took over a gigantic project to develop Beach Handball in the Bay Area. After numerous weekends of fun practices and notable events along the NorCal coast, we sent two teams (women/men) to the annual SoCal Beach Handball Championship. History gave us the right to believe we had a shot to reach the medal round, but with the increasingly growing competition, and fast-growing development of the sport in the Los Angeles area, only fools would bet on SF CalHeat. But those fools seemed to have been right. While the men’s team kicked-off the tournament with two convincing wins, it lacked energy (and talent) to challenge the US National Team athletes and ended-up at the 4th place. The women’s team, led by Kathrine Agger and Michelle Mensing, and carried by brilliant goalkeeping performance from Helena Bondan, came from behind to defeat both US National Teams and the Mexican Team in the final. The Gold was ours!
The unexpected but deserved success of Beach Handball gave the entire club wings for the season that was about to start. On Sep 11 2017, we resumed our indoor practices and noted a record number of participants (nearly 60 women and men showed up)! Slowly but surely, teams were forming, practices became a religion and teams were eager to compete.
After a smooth start of the season in Chicago, the teams started preparing across the country to reach the 2018 USATH Nationals with the best preparation. Our women’s team registered two teams at the California Cup with both teams meeting up in the fight for bronze. The men’s team came close to win the first ever Texas Cup but was beaten by a strong Chicago Inter (22-20), but ended up winning the West Coast tourney in Phoenix (5 wins, 0 defeat). Months of preparation, commitment and sacrifices were now under test. In Myrtle Beach.
This year’s Nationals was like no other. With 56 athletes and staff members, SF CalHeat became the largest team handball delegation at the 2018 US Nationals with New York City Team Handball. The growing interest of the sport, and the relentless work of some helped us to bring the entire family to stage.
Our teams fought hard to challenge the best ones. Despite a tough loss against Team Rogue, our first women’s team showed some excellent game phases and was close to an upset against Boston Team Handball (4th of the last Championship). Our ladies finished at the 7th place but demonstrated good teamwork. The second women’s team was all about development. For many players, that was their first big Handball event. And surprisingly, they came in 9th beating the Houston Firehawks (winner of this year’s CalCup). The men teams had a slightly different end-story. While our newly composed second team won their first two games of the tournament against LATHC and Minnesota TH, they came in short against some of the more experienced teams. End-result: 10th place. There’s much to believe that this team will get better, more disciplined and seasoned as they grow together as a team.
Our first men’s team was, similarly to the Beach Handball ladies, the highlight of the year. The boys defeated Chicago and West Point to qualify for semis, and offered an epic semifinal matchup against NYAC. That game is still today in many players’ memories. 38-37 after penalty shootout. Unfortunately, the team didn’t have the resources to fight alongside NYC in the final. Like long-time referee Tugomir ‘Butso’ Anusic said, “the final was yesterday”, referring to the team’s lack of energy in the final. But the silver medal in the men’s division was ours, 28 years later.
This season did deliver some very important lessons. Together, as a team, with work and commitment, we can achieve great things. And this is only the beginning. We’re also very grateful towards those who believed in this project from the very beginning and supported us along the way. The players, first. But also the sponsors: Dish Dash, Rocktape, Blue Mango and Hummel, who became our exclusive partner on the youth development front. Finally, the SF CalHeat community, in the Bay Area and all around the world.
Some weeks have now passed, and the players are back on the beach for the fun, but also to raise up the adrenaline. We recently concluded our first Beach Handball Championship in Northern California. Another milestone for the club. In one month, we will be back to defend our first title and, who knows, maybe deliver another performance for the books… Until then, Go CalHeat!