Monday, December 11, 2006

Day 10: WNT returns to Cortland

The bus left for the Stockholm airport at just after 5:00am on Sunday morning. Once at the airport, the WNT checked their bags and headed to the terminal to board their 9:00am flight for Newark.

The flight was not very full, and took off on time for a nine hour trip back to the US. The WNT arrived in Newark, went through customs, and made the flight to Syracuse just in time. Without too much delay, the WNT made it back to Syracuse only ten minutes behind schedule.

A bus was waiting for the team as they came out of the Syracuse airport and made the last leg of their trip back to Cortland.

Overall it was an excellent trip for the WNT, who are now even more prepared to take on Canada for the Pan-American Games qualification on January 4th and 6th. GO USA!!


Day 9: USA vs. Sweden U-20

It was an early morning for the WNT as they boarded a bus for Stockholm at 7am. Once they arrived at the gym, they got dressed and had to warm-up most of the way in the hallway as the court was being used.

Although it was an extremely quick warm-up on the court, the WNT focused on coming out strong in the first half. They were very successful in taking a lead early-on and staying within a few goals of Sweden throughout the first thirty minutes. At half-time, the WNT had the game in reach with a score of 11-12.

In the second half, the WNT struggled to maintain the close score. With team captain Tomuke Ebuwei out of the game after a red-card in the first half, the WNT struggled with the energy to keep the pace. Several two-minute penalties riddled the half and at one point the US was down to four court players while Sweden continued to push their fast-break. It was a disappointing end for the USA with a final score of 32-18.

Immediately after the game, the WNT packed into the bus with the Swedish team to head to another gym where Sweden U-20 would play a second game. The WNT took the opportunity to shower and grab lunch at the second gym before watching the Swedes win their second game of the day against a Division 1 club team.

After that game, it was back to the stadium to watch Russia, Croatia, the Ukraine, and Sweden in the European Championship.

The first game found Croatia vs. the Ukraine, with a very exciting and close match. Croatia won by one point with a goal in the last two seconds of the game!

The second game was Russia vs. Sweden, and after a strong performance by Sweden in the first match on Thursday, it was a bit disappointing to see them lose by so many points. The final score was a disappointing 30-15.

When the games were over, the WNT took a bus back to Vasteras where they quickly got ready for their last night on the town. The whole team enjoyed a fabulous meal at a local restaurant thanks to Dawn Lewis and her husband Mark who sponsored the dinner.

After a leisurely and delicious dinner, the players were offered the oppotunity to join Goran and some of the Vasteras club players at a local hot-spot called "The Blue Moon." Despite a long line that wrapped around the building, Goran had called ahead and gotten VIP treatment for the WNT players, who stepped right through the rope without waiting.

Whether they went home to pack and get some rest, or whether they stayed out enjoying a night on the town- it was a short night for the members of the WNT as they boarded a bus for the airport at 5:00am on Sunday morning.


Day 8: Practice and "Surprise Night"

This morning was the last practice of the tour for the WNT players, who were ready to get back on the court following a nice day-off in Stockholm and trip to the European Championships. After eating breakfast in the cottages, the players and coaches headed over to the gym to meet-up with newly-appointed goalie coach Niclas Gonzales, who travelled from Udevalla with the president and head coach of the Swedish Division 1 club.

With a game against the Swedish National Youth Team only a day away, the players focused on their game preparation so they could come out strong from the beginning. Practice ended with an intense scrimmage and then the players packed it in for lunch.

The afternoon was left free for players to go into downtown Vasteras to do some more shopping, or just take some time to rest and relax.

At 5pm, the team gathered together to meet with Goran and some players from the Vasteras club to kick-off the "surprise evening" that they had planned for the WNT. Several cars took the players and coaches to an undisclosed location to enjoy a nice dinner before the evening's festivities took place.

After dinner, the WNT players were broken-up into teams, and the rules of the game were explained. Each team had an electronic key that would open the door to various "cells"- each cell contained a challenge and if completed correctly, would award the team with a certain number of points. The team with the most points at the end of the night would win.

The fun part of the game was figuring out what the challenge in each "cell" was, and how to win. There were no instructions, so the game required a bit of trial and error to figure out what was supposed to be done to get the points. Some of the challenges required physical proweress such as climbing walls and crawling through tunnels, while others required more technical and tactical skills. All of them required teamwork, though, and no less than three people were needed to successfully complete the tasks.

At the end of the night, everyone had a great time (and many had worked-up a sweat from all of the physical work!) and the WNT returned home to get a good night of sleep ahead of their last day in Sweden.


Friday, December 08, 2006

Day 7: Day off in Stockholm!

It was a relaxing morning for the players of the WNT- with no morning practice, they leisurely ate breakfast in their cottages before leaving Vasteras to spend the day in Stockholm.

The tour began with a nice walk from the cottages into downtown Vasteras, where the WNT got on a train bound for Stockholm. After an hour, the train pulled into Stockholm Central Station, and the team gathered to meet their tour guide for a walk around the city.

Stockholm is made-up of 14 islands, and the tour guide explained the history of the city as everyone walked along. The tour took the WNT past the City Hall, the Palace, several historic churches, and through the Old Town where some of the building date back to the 1400s.

The team in one of the smallest streets in Stockholm

After a few hours of touring around, the guide left everyone to enjoy the shopping and Christmas markets in the main part of downtown.

At 5:00pm, the team gathered again to take a short metro ride to the stadium where the WNT would attend the first two games of the European Championships. The tickets were donated by the EHF Organizing Committee thanks to Carin Nelsson Green.

The WNT in front of the stadium, tickets in hand

The first game matched 2005 World Champions Russia against Croatia. The game was very close through most of the first half and into the second half, until Russia pulled away in the end and won by five.

After the game, the opening cermonies took place in a special Swedish fashion. A choir of children dressed in traditional Swedish Christmas clothing, including one girl dressed as Saint Lucia, entered the gym with candles. After a few traditional songs, the parade of flags entered and the first ball of the match was thrown. There were some great pyrotechnics as well, and by the end the crowd in the stadium had grown in anticipation of Sweden's first match.

Opening ceremony
Once the opening cermony ended, the Swedish National Team took the floor and warmed-up along with the team from the Ukraine. Several girls from the Vasteras team joined our group to cheer on one of their own players, Jessica Enstrom, who was playing for the Swedes.

It was another great game, with a close match in the first half, and Sweden pulling away in the second half. Jessica, the Swedish National Team player from Vasteras, won player of the game.

Overall it was a really fun day for the WNT, who enjoyed an opportunity to take a break while also taking in some amazing handball.

After a long day, a bus met the team at the stadium and the players enjoyed the door-to-door service of being dropped right at their cottages at 11:30pm.

Players relaxing on the busride home


Day 6: USA v. Arboga

In the usual fashion, the WNT ate breakfast in their cottages before heading to the gym for a training session from 10:00am-11:45am. After several days of training and games, the session focused on more technical aspects such as shooting and passing, with a little bit of offense-defense strategy at the end.

After practice, everyone headed back to shower and have lunch at the bistro before preparing for an early depature for the evening's game.

At around 3:30pm, the WNT got onto a bus and headed an hour away to play Arboga, a Division 2 team that is currently ranked in first place. The team arrived in the gym fairly early and had time to get settled and eat a snack before warming up in front of a growing crowd.

When the warm-up was complete, the WNT gathered behind the gym to prepare for their grand entrance. Arboga had created an exciting introduction for the US team that included smoke, lasers, music, and spotlights as they ran onto the court and greeted the 300 or so people that filled the seats and left many standing throughout the game.

Once again, the WNT got off to a bit of a slow start, and fell behind in the first few minutes of the game. The pace was fast, but the WNT players continued to push to stay with the high speed of Arboga. At the end of the first half, the WNT returned to the locker room with a two point deficit (13-11).

Determined to win the game, the WNT came out strong after halftime and was able to keep the high speed of the game, pushing the fast break, and disrupting the other team's ball movement on defense. It was an exciting game, and the players pushed hard until the very end to take a win with a final score of 27-22.

This game showed a definite improvement in the beginning of the game, and continued the four game streak of coming back and winning in the second half of the game. There is an improving confidence in the players as they build their winning attiutude, even when facing more challenging teams. It was a fun game for the players and the crowd, and after the game the WNT headed to a local restaurant to enjoy dinner with the players from Arboga before heading back to Vasteras.

USA 27, Arboga 22


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Day 5: USA v. Avesta

The team is on a pretty regular schedule now, waking up, eating breakfast and heading to the gym for practice in the morning. This morning, the WNT had a special meeting with Claes before handball training, so things got started around 9:30am instead of 10:00am.

Claes spent an hour going over various psychological aspects of the game, and setting goals and having proper motivation. He also showed some videos about how different animals use cooperation and teamwork to overcome obstacles in nature. It was a very inspirational meeting, and after that the team hit the gym to put some of the new ideas into action.

Once again, the WNT was joined by Claes and Thomas during the training session. They worked on different skills, focusing a lot on the wings and 6-meter shots (both for the goalies and the shooters). It was a great practice, and the team was sad to say good-bye to Thomas and Claes who had to leave shortly after the practice session was over.

After lunch at the bistro, the WNT had a chance to rest and relax for a few hours before boarding a bus to Avesta, about an hour to the north. Once the team arrived in Avesta, a representative from the town council walked everyone around the museum attached to the sports complex.

The team on a tour of the factory

The museum is an old steel/iron factory that has been preserved and then renovated to include audio/video and interactive features for people to experience what it must have been like to work in the factory a hundred years ago. A guide walked us around and explained how steel and iron were refined using the furnaces and mills. Upstairs, there were exhibits made by Swedish artists that reflected some of the themes that revolve around the factory, such as the story of a ghost woman in a white dress who is said to have haunted the workers.

The tour guide explaining the story of the "woman in the white dress"
The WNT looking at the glass art exhibit

When the tour finished, the WNT got ready for the game in the locker room before warming up as usual and being introduced to the crowd of around 350 people. Avesta, a Division 1 team, took the court and the WNT got down to business.

As in the past two games, the WNT had a difficult time in the beginning, letting Avesta run up a solid 5-6 point lead through most of the first half. At half-time, the WNT went to the locker room behind by five with a score of 18-13.

During half-time, the team regrouped and came back to win the second half, coming within two points of Avesta during the last few minutes of the game. In the end, they couldn't quite catch the lead and lost the game 29-26.

Overall it was a very good game for the WNT, who was able to keep pace with the very fast speed of the Division 1 team. Turnovers were down from the previous game, and there were goals from every position. Defensively, the WNT was able to adapt using several different strategies to disrupt the flow of Avesta's offense, while offensively the WNT was patient and better controlled.

Team captain Tomuke "T" Ebuwei won MVP of the game and received a gift from the host club. Megan Ballard was recognized as the WNT defensive player of the game, and Kathy Darling was recognized as the WNT offensive player of the game after scoring 8 goals.

After the game the team joined Avesta and many members of the club and the town council for a very nice dinner at a restaurant near the museum. Each member of the WNT was given a book and a small wooden horse to commemorate their visit to Avesta.

On the way home, the bus stopped at the "World's Biggest Wooden Horse" and took a picture with it- it is a famous symbol of Sweden and the town of Avesta is very proud to be the site of the Guiness World record.

USA: 26, Avesta: 29


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Day 4: USA vs. Enkoping

Today the team made their own breakfasts in the cottages, with eggs, bread and juice provided by the hosts. After eating, the WNT walked over to the gym and got ready for practice to begin at 10am.

This time the WNT was on their own, joined only by guest coaches Claes and Thomas for another intense training session. As a world-famous goalkeeper himself, Claes took Erika Bohn, Erica Keppel and Jacque Messel to work on special goalie tactics while Thomas ran the rest of the practice as his official try-out for the WNT assistant coach position.

Claes, Thomas, and Christian

Claes talks to the circles, while Thomas gives advice to the wings

The team with Claes and Thomas

After nearly two hours, the WNT packed it in and headed back to the cottages to shower and have lunch. With the evening's game at 7pm, there was enough time for people to rest and relax, try to find an internet connection, and grab some food at the grocery store.

At 4:30pm, the team headed into a bus and traveled 30 minutes to Enkoping where they would face the Division 2 club at 7pm. After arriving, the club provided sandwiches and snacks for the team in a cafe attached to the gym.

Following "snack time"- the team headed to the locker room to prepare for the game. After getting dressed and having a team meeting, the players were brought out for their big presentation on the court. Each of the ladies was given a small child and together they ran out onto the court while a giant spotlight followed them. The announcers introduced the team, played the American and Swedish national anthems and then got the game going while a crowd of 400 cheered in the stands.

Sadly, the WNT got off to a slow start, and ended the first half 17-13. The USA struggled with 18 turnovers in the first thirty minutes, giving Enkoping an unusually high number of fast breaks to run-up the score. After regrouping at halftime, the WNT came back to win the game in the second half with a final score of 32-25, keeping second half turnovers to five.

Melanie McCormick was one of the top scorers of the game, putting in an impressive six goals from the right wing. Goalie Erika Bohn also had a phenomenal game, with a saving percentage of over 50%. Overall, the USA took control of the game with a simple game plan, precise shots, and a minimum of turnovers.

It was the first win of the tour for the WNT, but it was also a valuable lesson in keeping mistakes to a minimum. Despite an unimpressive first half, the WNT kept their composure, cleaning things up to come back from behind and maintain a solid lead through the end of the second half.

Hopefully the WNT will continue to make improvements and raise their level of play as they prepare for their third game against another Division 1 team on Tuesday night.

USA 32, Enkoping 25


Day 3: USA v. Vasteras

This morning began with a very nice breakfast in the hotel. After eating, the team packed up all of their things and headed across the street to move into the "cottages" where they would be staying for the rest of the trip.

The cottages where the WNT is staying in Vasteras

The cottages are very nice, with two bedrooms each, a small kitchen (with a stovetop and fridge), and a shower/bathroom. After dropping all the things off in the cottage, the team headed down a small path to the gym where they would be holding training sessions for the rest of the week.

The kitchen
The bedroom

Once again, the Division 1 Club Vasteras joined the WNT for the training session, along with two of the guest coaches- Claes Hellgren and Thomas Brond. The team broke-up into groups by position, and each group got to work with a coach on various aspects of their game. At the end of practice, USA and Vasteras split-up into teams and played some short scrimmages to get prepared for the game later that day.

After training the laides headed back to the cabins to shower and get ready for lunch. Everyone ate at the bistro next to the cottages and then had a brief team meeting before getting an hour or so to rest.

At 2:30 the WNT headed over to the gym to begin preparing for the game against Vasteras. The gym is very nice- with a great floor and lots of seats for fans. They even have special stands for the stick-um!

The game started at 4pm and the USA got off to a rough start against the experienced team, who ended up beating the WNT 26-13. There were many opportunities to score, but the USA had a hard time putting the ball in, with the goalie answering the bad shots with a fast-break for the other team. The speed of the game was fast, and the players were big and strong.

Hopefully over the next several days, the WNT will raise their game and take care of their mistakes. At this level, even small mistakes can lead to a big advantage for the other team. It was definitely a learning experience, and a good reminder of what aspects of the game we need to take care of if we want to win.

USA 13, Vasteras 26


Day 1-2: Traveling to Vasteras, Sweden!

Amazingly everyone got on the bus and we left as scheduled from Cortland! The team arrived in Syracuse around 11:15am to find out that the 12:55pm flight had been delayed until 2:45! The snowstorms in the midwest had caused many of the planes to be late, so we just kicked in the terminal until the plane took off.

Thankfully it took off a little earlier than expected, and the team landed in Newark with plenty of time to spare before the flight to Stockholm. Once again, the flights were struck with delays and the team sat on the tarmac for two hours until lift-off around 8:45pm. The flight went smoothly and everyone landed safely in Stockholm at 8:30am, just one hour later than expected.

Everyone was surprised at the lack of fanfare getting off of the plane. No customs forms, no major security, just a guy stamping the passports and letting everyone walk out to grab the bags!

The team met with assistant coach Dawn at the baggage along with Sunny Chen, who had taken the train that morning from the Netherlands. Goran, the coach of the host team Vasteras, was waiting for us outside with a big bus to take us to Vasteras.

Most of the team was pretty tired, but the goal was to try to stay awake so that everyone could adjust to the time! The players kicked it around for an hour and a half before lunch, chatting with their teammates "T" and Jennie (and T's three-year old daughter Kya) who met us at the hotel around 10:30am after travelling from where they'd been staying in western Sweden. At noon everyone went for lunch at a bistro across the street where the team is being sponsored during the trip.

After lunch everyone settled into the hotel rooms at the Ibis, and despite warnings to try to stay awake, some of the girls couldn't help but to take a nap. After a nice rest, the team met in the lobby at 3:30pm (and it was already dark!) to get ready to go to their first practice in Sweden.

Several girls from the local club team (the hosts) Vasteras, met the WNT at the hotel to drive them to practice. The regular practice venue, which is just a short walk from the hotel, was being used by a Lego competition, so they had to drive to another gym about 20 minutes away.

It was excellent to practice with the Division 1 girls and their coach, Goran Lindsgard. The joint practice went really well, and everyone enjoyed having so many great players around to share their experience, and learn new drills.

When practice ended, the team headed back to the hotel to shower and have dinner before crashing for the evening. It was a long day, but everyone was excited about the week ahead.


Thursday, November 30, 2006

Sweden: Schedule

Please click on schedule to see a larger version


Sweden: Picture and Roster