The Pacific University handball team traveled to Tempe, Ariz. for the National Collegiate Championship and left as National Champions. Among the 14 players playing for the title, 11 of them have been playing on the team for six months or less.
With many players having less experience than their competition or not having any experience at the national championship level, you can expect players to be worrisome. However, the Boxers prevailed by winning the combined points for the A division title over University of West Florida. The men finishing runner up in the B division and the women winning the A division for a total team combined score of 3452.
“A lot of them had a lot of nervousness when I started talking about the collegiate championships,” Steinberg said. “The questions were: are going to be ready in six months? Are we going to embarrass ourselves? Is the competition going to be too tough? But, I assured them the way the format goes is the skill levels get matched up the first two days of competition, so for them knowing that they drilled and they practiced for hours at a time.”
As the Boxers have been known as one of the powerhouse teams in Division III handball, expectations are high each year for them. Pacific also took the A division title at last year’s national championship of combined points, along with the women taking the division A title as well. Repeating was an expectation for the team.
“We wanted to repeat as national champions,” Steinberg said. “It was truly a unique experience at the University of Minnesota last year when we took home the title.”
For the women’s B division, players junior Karissa Komo and senior Ivette Heredia won their division, while playing in the championship round against their own teammates freshman Julie Huestis and junior Cassidy Sphahr. For Steinberg, as he puts it, “it was a win-win situation”. Not only did it help the team’s combined point total to help win the division A championship, but it was a unique and fun experience for the coaches and team.
Junior Brandon Howes played in the C-4 singles division in the men’s bracket and won his bracket which contributed to the team’s points for the Boxer’s to be able to repeat as champions again.
The Boxers played extremely well against Division I teams in the collegiate championship with a winning record over many teams. They held a 4-1 lead over the University of Texas, 3-1 lead over the University of Minnesota, 3-0 lead against Michigan State University and a 7-4 lead over Minnesota State University.
With back to back championships, the Boxers will have higher expectations next year, having more experience from the 11 players who have never even touched a handball prior to September 2016. All the players contributed to crucial points needed for the Boxers to repeat as champions.