Article Credit: International Handball Federation
Coach: Michael Hinson
Key Players: Chay Lapin (Goalkeeper), Bill Bigham (Defensive Specialist)
Road to Qualification: Winners – 2016 PATHF Pan American Beach Handball Championship
History in Tournament: 2016 is their debut appearance. (2004: DNQ, 2006: DNQ, 2008: DNQ, 2010: DNQ, 2012: DNQ, 2014: DNQ)
A momentous occasion for North America will occur at Budapest 2016 as the American men become the first-ever team from the region to appear at an IHF Beach Handball World Championship.
The USA are in Budapest 2016 thanks to winning the 2016 PATHF Pan American Beach Handball Championship held in Venezuela in late March/early April.
Brazil, the traditionally dominant side in the Americas, had already qualified for Budapest as current world champions and opted to concentrate on their preparation for Hungary and with it, opened up the possibility for other teams to grab a space.
But let this take nothing away from the Americans. After losing their opening group game 2-0 against Argentina, they beat Paraguay on a shootout. However, two consecutive losses, firstly against Uruguay, on a shootout, and then the hosts on another shootout left their world championship dream in pieces.
But as the famous saying goes, what does not kill you makes you stronger and the Americans, coached by Michael Hinson, had one last chance to make the semi-finals which they took, against Ecuador, winning 2-0 and this, combined with that early win against Paraguay saw them through to the final four.
Against the host nation again, the Americans went all the way and, this time, won their shootout against the Venezuelans. This result set up a final against Uruguay and after a 14-12 first period win, they collapsed in the second, losing 24-7. Despite this, the side from North America, with all their experience of shootouts, held their nerves to win 9-6 and take the continental honours in ecstatic scenes.
That experience will bode well for Budapest but facing the Americans in group A will be the Brazilian team, keen to assert their continental authority after losing their title, having won the previous five out of five editions of the Pan American championship.
USA Coach Michael Hinson has selected 14 of his 16 players from his club Los Angeles Team Handball Club, whilst the remaining two come from United.
One of the LA players, Chay Lapin, is goalkeeper for Team USA and his story is an interesting one. After winning gold at the 2012 Pan American Water Polo Championships he represented USA at the London 2012 Olympic Games where they finished in eighth place.
Hinson found Chay after searching the internet for former water polo goalkeepers under 35 years old, 6’5” minimum height, no longer competing at a high level in the game and living in the Los Angeles area. After identifying Chay, he contacted him through Facebook and extended an invitation to give beach handball a try.
“Chay was definitely the best goalkeeper in the Pan Am competition and was a big factor in winning gold,” said Hinson. “His water polo skills easily transitioned to the beach game and his experience and leadership helped our young team compete at a high level in a short period of time.”
Chay’s younger brother, Taylor, another former water polo goalkeeper, is also in the USA team for Budapest
“It’s extra special to play with my brother,” said Chay about Taylor. “Beach handball is a great sport, fun to play and a little faster than water polo but the philosophy is the same – they try to score, I try to stop them.
“I feel comfortable in the goal and play with a great bunch of highly competitive and dedicated athletes.”
Defensive specialist Bill Bigham is also a key player for USA. As former American Football quarterback, his throwing power is evident and has brought his indoor experience as a right-back and right-wing with the USA men’s national team and club teams onto the sand with clear positive results.