ARMED with a new head coach from Denmark and growing self-belief, the Australian junior (U20) handball team – featuring Jewish Sydneysider David Mekler-Peled – has won the IHF Oceania Trophy for the first time since 2012, earning a rare spot in next year’s Intercontinental Trophy.
The Aussies finished third last year and faced defending champions Tahiti first up in the six-nation tournament played in New Caledonia from June 10-15, but were not daunted by the memory of losing to them in 2017 by 29-16.
After a good preparation, the well-drilled Aussies emerged as 28-26 round one winners, and went on to win their remaining games against the host nation (28-24), New Zealand (22-16), Fiji (30-18) and the Cook Islands (25-10).
Mekler-Peled – who plays on the right wing and right back for Australia, NSW and his club side UNSW – told The AJN it was handy to play Tahiti at the start of the tournament when everyone felt fresh and pumped.
“It was a very emotional experience for a lot of our guys to beat a team like Tahiti, and that win really lifted us,” he said.
“I think a lot of credit has to go to our new coach, Ricki Lyngsoe, who gave us good structures and also interviewed every player in the squad about our expectations before the tournament, really instilling a sense of belief in us.
“It’s an exciting time because we are now through to the Intercontinental Trophy [an U21 tournament for developing handball nations] for the first time in six years, and the winner of that automatically qualifies for the world championships.”