The wait is now over! 29 years after its last gold medal, San Francisco CalHeat Men conquers the National title in one of the most epic and thrilling finals of the last decade. The ‘golden boys’ finished this season with an impressive 23-0-1 run, winning all major events (M. Lipov Memorial Cup, Texas Cup, California Cup, West Coast and US Nationals).
The tournament started pretty softly with wins over New York City 2 (32-20) and DC Diplomats (32-28), however, our team was then set to play the very best in the nation. In the last round robin game, crucial for determining the semifinal crossover, our team went on to defeat New York Athletic Club (29:26) – something that hasn’t happened since 2003. Then, the semifinal against our state rival, Los Angeles THC. The team started fast and furious, leading up 4:0, 6:2 and 12:7 but allowed the South Californians to come close at half-time (14:11). Los Angeles pushed even further through the tournament’s Most Valuable Player, Gil Pires, to come one goal close (19:18), but the boys stood strong and regained back the control of the game in the last quarter to close up on a convincing 28-23 victory.
On Sunday, it was time for the big final against the 8-time champions, New York City. The World’s Handball Club dominated the U.S. national scene in the past decade, and recently qualified for the IHF Super Globe event. Many wondered how this final game would look, especially having in mind last year’s championship game, easily won by the Gotham Boys (31-18). But this year, it was different. The team started strong in defense and Florian Schoebinger was ready to match up against the great Benjamin Briffe. The two teams played goal by goal, until New York took a 3 goal lead that seemed inevitable at half time. But, no. SF Calheat fought back and in the final seconds took a one goal lead thanks to a 10-meter shot by Zuwed Akuro.
The second half seemed like a copy cut of the first one and the game went on goal by goal. Stefan Lang (New York City) was particularly efficient scoring 9 goals in 15 minutes while SF Calheat remained in the game thanks to some amazing executions from Eloy Rubio, Florian Schoebinger and Nicolas Raemy. But our team collapsed little by little and allowed New York City to take a 3 goal lead a couple minutes before the end, and a last time out that clearly turned out the game. In those last minutes, Lucas Kroeger saved important shots from 6 meters, and Soeren Mueller and Nicolas Raemy brought back the team from the dead to take a surprising 1 goal lead less than a minute left in the game (29-30). That same Nicolas Raemy stole a long pass from Benjamin Briffe and went on alone in fast break to give SF Calheat the victory despite a final goal from New York City. That was it, our boys are now US National Champions and automatically qualified for the upcoming Super Globe Qualifier (May/June 2020 – TBD) and 2020 US Nationals.
Congrats to this incredible group of players and their staff: Lucas Kroeger, Omar Bentahar, Daniel Hundt, Raphael Renault, Francis Brero, Antoine Gautier, Soeren Mueller, Vilmos Urban, Eloy Rubio, Alexandre El-Assad, Slave Jovanovski, Florian Schoebinger, Zuwed Akuro, Nicolas Raemy, Danilo Rojevic (coach), Dr. Brad Barez (medical/athletic trainer)