By Griffin O’Hara
SOFIA, Bulgaria – The U.S. Team Handball squad’s last game of the 2013 Deaflympics on Saturday came down to the final seconds.
After a last-minute Russian scoring run, the Americans were down 30-29 with six seconds left. Top U.S. scorer Stefan Bergan moved fast and scored a seven-meter penalty shot in the final three seconds to force a tie between the U.S. and Russia, 30-all.
However, because overtime only occurs in games in which medals are at stake, the Americans had to be satisfied with the 30-30 tie and sixth place in the standings.
“I think, compared to the first game, we made a lot of strides” to improve, Kevin Berrigan said. “At the same time, blowing an eight-point lead … should not happen in the future, but, other than that, handball has a very promising future.”
Against Russia, the U.S. started the first half strong, building up an eight-point lead, but started to struggle.
“In the first half, we were off to a good start,” head coach Chris Hamilton said. “We were leading. Later, we still struggled to hold the lead. [While] leading, we played a little sloppy and gave them the momentum.”
The crowd got involved in the second half, chanting for better defense after the U.S. began giving up points. Russia held it together in the second half and did not make any unforced errors, holding the score even down to the wire.
The U.S. men’s handball team finished with a 1-2-1 record.
Players say they’ve improved by leaps and bounds since they first started practicing together two weeks before the Deaflympics, and they have high hopes for the future.
“We have promising players, and we can do nothing but improve,” Berrigan said.
Hamilton said he wants to better prepare for the next handball competition, given that he had just three months to assemble the entire team, and then one week of crash-course training with the squad.
“I want to see more, but to be realistic, we only competed for a week,” he said. “We need more games, more experience.”
Berrigan believes the players’ experience in the 2013 Games will give them a big boost.
“I think [the] Olympic experience is irreplaceable,” he said. “You can’t really teach it, you can’t train it.”