The Pacific University Handball team wrapped up its trip to the 60th Annual Handball National Tournament, which took place from Feb. 22 to the 26 at Missouri State University. They walked away as the third best team in the country.
Head Coach Mike Steele attributes the team’s success to a number of things.
“This team was very cohesive and gelled very well with each other. This year’s team is also very athletic and knows how to use their athletic ability to their advantage,” said Steele. “Not a single one of our players took a timeout because of fatigue.”
The Boxers beat high caliber teams throughout the tournament, defeating powerhouse Lake Forest University twice and the second place team of Missouri State on five occasions. Other high power teams that fell to the Boxers include Texas A&M, University of Texas, University of Florida and Illinois State.
“We beat a lot of good teams this year and that is a tribute to the amount of court time the players have put in,” said Steele.
The team was fairly new to the sport of handball, with the majority of players going to their first national tournament. The team was senior heavy, but with most only picking up handball the semester before the tournament.
Steele is no stranger to coaching players who are new to the sport. All of the 21 national champions that Pacific has produced have never played handball before college.
“We know how to work with new players and we know how to have fun at the same time,” said Steele.
Pacific has also has a new national champion to add to the list. Joel Carlson won the Challenger Division beating a University of Texas player to claim the national title.
“Joel was the surprise this tournament. He has no quit in him and he just bounces right back up every time,” said Steele.
Carlson earned a reputation for being a hard working hustle player who would sacrifice his body and dive for balls that other players wouldn’t even consider going after. That hustle and effort carried him all the way to a national championship.
Another Boxer to walk away with some recognition was Gavin Brown who won the Sportsmanship award in this year’s tournament. He also is half of the Men’s B Level Doubles tandem that made it to the semifinals. Brown and his partner, Aaron Cochrane, attribute their success to hard work and above all being consistent.
“We would come in to the courts in the morning and get extra time in,” said Cochrane.
Brown and Cochrane completed their second national tournament as double partners and with both players being sophomores they still have two years of eligibility to go.
Because the team was so senior heavy Steele said that he needs to rebuild the squad but they will be fine. He will continue his recruiting efforts but he also stated that the majority of players are already Pacific students who just put the time in to improve.
Steele said one incentive to go out for the team is that next year’s tournament will be in Florida. “That is always a nice trip for us.”
To add to playing a very difficult tournament, getting home wasn’t so easy for the Boxers either. Their flight from Springfield to Chicago was late so the team had an overnight layover in Chicago. Then the team flew from Chicago to Washington DC, had a three hour layover then flew straight across the country to Portland.
“It certainly was a rough trip for us. But the team really pulled together and everyone helped out during the trip. I think that speaks a lot about the team,” said Steele.