Victory Is Within Reach For PH Handball

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SEA GAMES BOUND A group photo of the beach handball team with the coaching staff after winning the bronze medal in the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

PHILIPPINE Handball Federation (PHF) national program director and head coach Joanna Franquelli believes that winning a medal in the coming Southeast Asian Games (SEAG) in Hanoi, Vietnam is possible.

When beach handball debuted in the 2019 SEAG hosted by the Philippines, the men's team finished third behind Vietnam and Thailand.

“We are optimistic of our chances to land in the podium again,” said Franquelli, a former national cager and fencer. “The team will definitely go all out as they have missed the feeling of competition and are very excited to be out in the sand again.”

Franquelli's optimism has never wavered despite the challenges brought by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Athletes across all sports had to deal with the challenge of remote training and the absence of competition. At first, it was extremely difficult to adjust to the remote set up with limited access to equipment, but as the days went by, we had to act decisively on how we should approach the training and focus on things we can control rather than the things we cannot do,” she said.

The handball coaching staff designed a program that focused on strength and conditioning, individual skills, game review and psychological skills training.

“We tracked the physical progress of our athletes through periodical assessments. Through the assessments, the athletes and coaches can see the progress that gives us much needed motivation to continue despite the absence of competitions,” said Franquelli, an International Handball Federation (IHF) licensed coach who also holds a master's degree in Human Movement Science.

Her coaching staff is composed of Jamael Pangandaman (offense), Aurora Adriano (defense), Luzviminda Pacubas (goalkeepers) and Mark Vincent Dubouzet (strength and conditioning).

“They are all part of the bronze medal winning team (Pangandaman and Dubouzet as athletes). Pangandaman, Adriano and Pacubas earned their international licenses through IHF trophy coaching courses. Dubouzet is a certified performance specialist,” said the 45-year-old Franquelli.

“Pangandaman and Adriano coaches local school teams. They have been selected to be part of the coaching staff since 2017 by winning championships in local tournaments staged by the PHF.”

Franquelli said the coaching staff is still in the process of selecting the members of the national team from a pool of 17 players composed of 5'9″ Josef Maximillan Valdez, 5'8″ Jamael Pangandaman, 5'7'' Rey Joshua Tabuzo, 5'8″ Daryoush Zandi, 5'10″ Dhane Miguelle Varela, 5'11″ Van Jacob Baccay, 6'4″ Andrew Michael Harris, 5'9″ Manuel Lasangue, 5'8″ Tomas Luis Telan, 5'6″ Vincent Quitevis, 5'8″ Mark Vincent Dubouzet, 5'7″ Carl Stephen Francisco, 5'10″ Oliver Wendell Dematera, 6'2″ Jan Michael Pasco, 5'10″ Harold Mendoza, 6'2″ Wayne Nathaniel Tee Ten and 5'7″ Jalen Rein Delos Santos.

“We will have minor changes in the team. Our beach handball team will be composed of 10 athletes. The core of the team that won bronze in 2019 will be retained. If ever we will make changes in the lineup, maybe it will just be one or two athletes,” she explained.

Fascinating sport

Handball is a sport where two teams pass and bounce, roll or throw the ball into the goal of the opposing team. The game, which is popular in Europe, can be played indoors or on the beach.

PHF, the handball federation recognized by the Philippine Olympic Committee, is headed by Steve Hontiveros. The other officers are vice president Jose Capistrano Jr., secretary general Dr. Ernesto Adalem and treasurer Dr. Charlie Ho.

Capistrano, who also served as secretary general of the 1991 Manila SEA Games Organizing Committee, said “handball is an Olympic sport that Filipinos can be good at. It requires agility and teamwork and height is not a factor. There's no need for a new facility because a basketball court can be converted to a handball court with just the addition of a goal similar to that of futsal.”

Turning point

Franquelli was already an accomplished athlete when she got involved with handball.

In 2011, she attended a handball coaching seminar and started teaching the sport in the University of Asia and the Pacific. The following year, she received an invitation from Hontiveros and Adalem to join the PHF as coach.

“Mr. Steve Hontiveros and Dr. Adalem invited me to join the PHF as coach to form a women's beach handball team. At that time, there were no women's handball players in the Philippines and only a handful knew the sport. Members of that first team were highly skilled players from other sports. Talent transfers. It was there when I saw the need to establish a grassroots program and create a pathway for future national teams,” said the 5-foot-6 Franquelli, who became interested in handball because it is “exciting to watch” and in a way, similar to basketball.

Before fencing, she played basketball and won the silver medal in the 1995 SEA Games in Chiang Mai, Thailand with teammates Julie Amos, Caroline Mindo, Justine Arias, Emilia Vega, Mary Ellyn Caasi, Kristina Maralit, Grace Sanchez, Tina Columna, Venus Gualdaquever, Erlyn Destacamento and Bambie Tinasas. The team was coached by Tony Guinto and Ompong Segura.

As a fencer, Franquelli won a gold (team sabre) and a silver (individual) in the 2006 Southeast Asian Fencing Championships, while in the SEA Games, she pocketed three silvers and four bronzes.

“I started with the International Handball Federation (IHF) Handball at School (HaS) Program while also forming the first women's beach handball team. Every year, we had to form a new team to develop the National Team Program. From 2012-2019, I initiated the formation of the teams as well as developed the coaching staff of indoor handball (men's and women's Youth, men's and women's junior, and women's senior) and beach handball (men's and women's),” she narrated.

The men's team program began in August 2017 and the PHF organized the 1st SEA Beach Handball Championship in Dumaguete in anticipation for the 2019 SEA Games.

Franquelli said Filipino athletes have the skill to excel in the sport.

“We already have results to show given that we only started the HaS Program in 2012. Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Malaysia started way ahead of us. In 2018, during the IHF Trophy for our zone, we captured the silver medal in the youth category (U18). We attribute this success to the HaS Program. In 2019, our junior women's team took the bronze in the same tournament (IHF Trophy),” said Franquelli, whose father Joselito was a professional pelotari (Jai Alai).

“For beach handball, we had a strong bronze medal finish in the SEA Games, next to our friends from Vietnam and Thailand. Our athletes can already be considered among the best in Southeast Asia. Given enough time and resources, we can sustain our development and achieve.”

Grassroots development

The PHF grassroots program, which is anchored on the HAS, began 10 years ago. Events such as festivals and competitions are added to promote and develop the sport.

“We started in Metro Manila and Rizal province and held courses in Ilocos Norte, Palawan, Dumaguete, Iloilo and Cebu. During the pandemic, we held online sessions to introduce handball to the Bangsamoro Sports Commission, San Carlos City and Bacolod in Negros Occidental. We hope to further expand our reach when the situation gets better,” said Franquelli.

“For the HaS Program, the IHF provides equipment, learning materials and lecturers. The IHF does not provide monetary assistance. We request funds from the Philippine Sports Commission when needed. Some courses are hosted by the schools and LGUs and for some, we use our personal funds,” she said.

Franquelli said the long-term goal is “to strengthen the HaS Program to ensure that the proper foundation for training young athletes and coaches will lead to the development of homegrown talents to represent the Philippines in the future for both indoor and beach handball events.”

Indeed, the future looks bright for Philippine handball.