By Nathan Engel
SOFIA, Bulgaria – Both winless going into their match against each other and with just one game left in pool play, the United States’ and Hungary’s handball teams were hungry.
U.S. Team Handball head coach Chris Hamilton had a game plan to counterattack Hungary.
“Hungary wasn’t the most athletic team in the Deaflympics, so I knew that we had to take advantage of our athleticism,” Hamilton said. “Our athletes are capable of creating fast-break opportunities off our aggressive defense.
“The only thing that we had to do was improve our shot target selection and finish those possessions with goals.”
In the first half, the U.S. played its most complete game on offense by capitalizing on opportunities whenever they arose, especially on the fast breaks.
On defense, the Americans focused on pinching Hungary’s best player, making sure he was contained. It worked, as the Hungarian wasn’t able to score any goals in the first half.
The U.S. went into halftime with a 16-12 lead, but veteran Stefan Bergan knew the second half would be tougher.
“We played much better on offense today than the last two games, but we can’t forget about playing defense,” Bergan said. “We can’t take five minutes off on defense. We just have to keep reminding ourselves that good defense will create better offense and to maintain that tempo for 60 minutes.”
In the second half, the Americans showed some signs of fatigue, but fought through it and a stubborn Hungary team until the clock ran out.
By the time all was said and done, U.S. had held off Hungary, 27-23.
The second half was quite a challenge for both Hamilton and his players, Hamilton said, because the U.S. led in the closing minutes instead of being behind.
This time around, Hamilton said, the players had to hold the lead, kill the clock and close out the game with a win.
Veteran goaltender Ty Kovacs, playing in his last Deaflympics, said he was proud of his teammates for earning their first taste of victory on the international stage.
“The game got a little close in the end and we made some defensive lapses,” Kovacs said. “But we told each other to ‘let the game come to us’ and make smart plays instead of rushing things.
“In the end, we came out with a huge stepping-stone for the young players. They got more experience, playing time and most importantly of all, a huge win.”
U.S. Team Handball wraps up Deaflympics play with a fifth-place match against Russia at 9:30 a.m. (2:30 a.m.) Saturday at the National Sport Academy.