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Handball: Bringing home the hardware

sports editor

Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013

Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 14:02

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SENIOR RYAN CAMPBELL competes during practice at the HPER building. Campbell helped USU win two national titles in Tempe, Ariz. DELAYNE LOCKE photo

 

Rack up another pair of national titles for Utah State club athletes.

The Utah State club handball team traveled to Tempe, Ariz. for the 2013 USHA Collegiate National Championships, competing against 250 of the top-rated players in the country and bringing home two national titles — one in each a singles and doubles division — and an 11th place finish overall.

“We had three players play for the national championship in their divisions,” said USU coach Herm Olsen. “We’re talking blood, sweat and tears. These guys gave their all for Utah State. It was impressive.”

Senior Ryan Campbell was part of both titles, winning the Men’s Division 1B singles championship and another in the Men’s Division B doubles with fellow senior and partner Jon Larson.

Playing in his second national tournament, Campbell cruised through the early rounds and into the final, allowing only one opponent to score in double digits. But in a grueling back-and-forth battle, Campbell defeated Isaac Garcia of UC-Santa Cruz 21-20, 14-21, 11-10.

Down 10-6 in the tiebreak, Campbell broke Garcia’s serve and pulled off the come-from-behind victory with five consecutive points.

“It was just point for point,” Campbell said. “I thought he was going to get me, but I didn’t want to lose. (Coming from behind) was probably the best part. He had it in his head that the kid he was going to play was just going to give up, but I’ve never been that way.”

Not even blood would stop the Aggies.

During one doubles match, Larson split open his chin diving for a ball, but had his uncle sew stitches courtside so he could continue playing. The duo dominated their division, outscoring their opponents 210-70, or an average score of 21-7.

“It’s what every athlete dreams about, so to finally not only live the dream but to win it is amazing,” Larson said. “Ryan and I have been working at it together for three years. I had to quit my job to get enough hours on the court to feel like I was ready.”

Campbell and Larson, who both started playing handball in fall 2010, faced a tandem from the University of Limerick — a school in Ireland — in the final, cruising to a 21-5, 21-12 victory.

Fortunately for USU, Campbell and Larson both have a year of eligibility remaining and a shot to return to the national tournament and repeat as champions.

“We pretty much got embarrassed our first tournament,” Larson said. “We didn’t want that to happen again. That’s what motivated us to spend all the time preparing to go back this year.”

The Aggies sent 10 athletes to the national tournament, seven men and three women each paying their own way, and brought home the two titles and had another runner-up in Kim Butcher in the Women’s Division 1A bracket. It was Butcher’s third consecutive runner up finish, having moved up a bracket in each of her three years competing.

“It was tough, especially when I got inside my own head,” Butcher said. “I’m learning to go into more relaxed and not think too much about it or it throws me off. I like silver better than gold — the colors, not the place.”

The USU handball club has been around for the past six years, and Coach Olsen said the team is always looking for people to come join. There are two classes offered through the university, and safety goggles and gloves are available for those who don’t have them.

Campbell said you can buy a good pair of goggles for around $7 — around the same price as a handball — and gloves start at $20. The team practices Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at the racquetball courts in the HPER building.

“If you’re thinking about playing, just come out and play,” Campbell said. “We all have a good time.”

 

– curtislundstrom@gmail.com

Twitter: @CurtisLundstrom

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