Saturday, 14 January 2012

The Handball Challenge: Oxford Uni Tournament, Matches Four & Five.

Oxford University is famously the source of many great achievements and the producer of many of the greatest students of all time. On the Thursday 6th May 1954 medical student, Roger Bannister became the first man in history to run a sub-four minute mile; using two pacemakers he clocked 3mins 59.4 seconds on the Iffley Road track - bizarrely, despite having once been president of the Oxford club, he set this world record while running for the Amateur Athletic Association.

Saturday 7th January 2012 Brentwood Handball Club arrived at the very location of Bannister's amazing feat, it was to be another historical day, albeit at a far more modest level.

Coach Kuller Rabaca had liaised with both Cardiff and Thames Handball Club's to organise a mixed sex, mini tournament that would see athletes of all ability levels (from at least two continents) collide in a battle of whit, speed and agility.

The Handball Challenge: Match Four, Brentwood vs Cardiff

This was our first match with a mixed sex team this season, under the tournament guidelines we had to 'field' three girls at all times - as we only had three girls Coach had agreed that they'd all play as long as they could. Jo would be a goliath on our goal, while Julia and Steph both worked the wings and used their experience to instigate overlapping runs and attack the line.

Brentwood Keeper Jo making one of many saves against Cardiff. (The Everyman Olympian is No.8)
I was chuffed to start the match and worked in partnership with Steph, switching our positions to give Cardiff problems in their attacks and ours. With strong options throughout our team we had the upper hand against our Welsh opponents - some of whom were having their first competitive experience.

Cardiff's main threats came from their captain and a tall lad who had travelled to the fixture independently and simply looking for a game, it turned out he was Brazilian and plays in the English First Division - luckily for us he was having an off day, throughout the afternoon he must have hit the crossbar a dozen or so times.

At one point the ball had flown over the top during a Cardiff attack, I was completely unaware of it as it bounced on my head, then bounced on my head again as walked backwards, landed safely in our area for Jo to collect - unwittingly I'd nullified them with ease. The crowd applauded.

Mark was enjoying the freedom of being out of goal and on a number of occasions broke free to counter attack successfully - bagging several goals in both halves of this game. Rob also had his scoring mitts on - his aggression in attack helped make up for some of our players who couldn't make the tournament.

Brentwood's Rob pounces.
Coach had made it clear to the team that if we got a penalty, then I would take the first one. While on the bench midway through the first half I got the call, temporarily replacing an in-form Rob. I had no time for nerves as all eyes were on me - this was my chance. As instructed I planted my left foot firmly behind  the penalty line, eyes moving from left to right making my choice - the goalie was close enough to see my decisions as it was made...having meant to throw the ball away from where I was looking, I proceeded to launch it straight at the guy...thankfully he fluffed his lines and the net bulged, The Everyman Olympian had scored!!

The Everyman Olympian scores his first competitive goal
We broke for the first half 17-10 ahead.

Duncan was frustrated with himself in the break, feeling he'd squandered scoring opportunities, I told him to relax, that patience would pay off - he spent 2 minutes in the sin bin during that second half, clearly my advice worked then.

The fear of not closing out the game drove us on, the game ended 30-14, we'd won both halves and more importantly we'd won our first match of the season!

Rest is for wimps...or is that breakfast?..or is this nonsense? Either way we didn't get much of a rest (or a second breakfast for that mater) as we had our second game of the day to play...

The Handball Challenge: Match Five, Thames vs Brentwood

Terry was worried, 'They've got matching socks', he was right to be.

Thames had a coach who looked like he was cut and pasted straight out of a scene from Rocky IV right onto the sidelines of this court, with an 'I will break you' stare to boot.

Their team consisted of more talented girls than you'd find in an 80's US chick flick and what's more they were fresh. By contrast we were fresh meat - Coach Kuller Rabaca called a time-out a third of the way into that first half to give us a wake-up call, 'Your minds are elsewhere, maybe twenty minutes ago. You need to get in the moment'.

The Ref looks on as Thames' rapid No.19 storms through Brentwood's sleeping defence early the first half
Whether our lads were mesmerised by their No.5's cute bottom or like George Michael found sleeping at the wheel at a set of traffic lights, we'd simply run out of puff, it was hard to tell - but Coach was right.

Brentwood's Terry blocks Thames' excellent No.22
By half time we were 18-6 down, Coach had his work cut-out.

After a long spell on the sidelines I was asked to come on for Sean in a slightly more central role, I felt my defending was weakened but enjoyed better efficiency in our attacks, laying up Julia to score goals from our right wing, while Duncan continued to enjoy better poaching chances in the centre.

Duncan makes a break count against Thames
The main incident in this match was caused by one of their few male players getting under the skin of Ian on our side, the two were both sent off when Ian reacted to some of the abusive comments being made.

We managed 9 goals in a better second half but Thames showed their class finishing 36-15 the victors.

I'd scored my first ever competitive goal, this won't go down in Oxford University folk law but it means a heck of a lot to me.

Brentwood Handball Club: Oxford Tournament '12 Team
Standing: Coach Kuller Rabaca, Rob, Steph, Mark, Duncan, Ian, Sean
Crouching: The Everyman Olympian, Jo, Julia, Terry.

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