Pacific’s Handball Club is at it again, and come Feb. 21, they will be taking 16 competitors to Nationals in Springfield, Missouri.
This is the home of Missouri State University, where many national titles have been won.
This year’s team has made leaps and bounds since they kicked off their season in October at the Corvallis tournament.
“They have really come a long way,” said Head Coach Mike Steele.
He was emphatic about their chances of placing well at nationals and said, “I think with any luck at all, we a have a chance at third or better.”
The team finished third in the nation last year and is hoping to at least equal their performance if not do better this time around.
There has been a long standing tradition of success with Pacific’s handball team and Steele has been a part of many great teams.
In particular, “Alfredo Herrera is an ‘open’ level guy,” said Steele. This means Herrera is the most competitive handball player that Steele has coached.
“He has a chance at bringing in a national championship,” said Steele.
Herrera has been working intensely on preparing for nationals and Steele said, “Sometimes you’ll be talking upstairs and you’ll hear this loud bang. You’ll look down and see it’s Alfredo hitting empty cans.”
When Herrera decides to challenge himself he’ll take an empty can of handballs and line it up somewhere on the court. He will then proceed to pound “kill shots” at it until his aim in precise.
“He is very good at kill shots,” Steele said.
On the women’s side of things, Korina Kaio-Maddox has been a big contributor to the team. She is one of several women who Steele said is, “Capable of racking up lots of points.”
For nationals this year, only the top six scorers will be scored up in the end. The competition is stiff, but Steele is confident in the perfomance of his team and thinks Pacific has an excellent chance to be at the top.
“The team is shaping up very nicely,” said Steele.
Also looking into the logistics of nationals, Steele spoke from experience, “If you win half the matches in a day you’re looking pretty good.”
Two years ago, Steele had a team win 12 matches in a row.
He is not claiming this could happen at nationals this year, but he said a person never knows what to expect when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of the competition.
Handball at Pacific is a club, not a varsity sport, and yet they are known and ranked across the nation.
The team competes with large Division I programs such as ones at Texas A&M and Wake Forest University and is considered to be a top-flight competitor in the mix at nationals.
Steele, who has been coaching Pacific’s team for 30 years, expects this run to be just as exciting when they pull into the parking lot at Missouri State.