Missouri State’s handball team needs to make room in its trophy case after taking the United States Handball Association National Collegiate Championships by storm at Arizona State University on Feb. 22.
The women’s team took first in its division by scoring 2,223 points collectively, making this its 11th national championship title. The men were ranked fourth in their division with 1,861 points, and brought home a second place finish overall for MSU out of 42 schools.
Handball — a sport similar to racquetball in rules and penalties but with more focus on using both hands instead of a racket — has had a club team established at MSU since 1987.
The team is coached by Tommy Burnett, an experienced handball player with a passion for the game and his team.
“There’s a motto that I teach my team every year,” Burnett said. “The strength of the wolf is in the pack, and the strength of the pack is in the wolf. Because of that, we have a really tight team concept.”
In tournaments, the top six players of each division’s total points are added up for an overall score, which is then combined for a team total.
Many of the players who attended the competition had only a year of formal handball training, some of them even less. According to sophomore Mikaila Mitchell, for many players this helps them improve substantially.
“Two weeks after I joined the team, I went to my first tournament and got second in the B bracket,” Mitchell said. “I had never been so tired in my life, but it was so rewarding.”
Mitchell was joined in the women’s A bracket this year by sophomore Colleen McKay and junior Kelsey Haeger. McKay also competed in the Women’s 9-16 Open, taking second place.
While competitions in handball are usually completed by individuals, when one person competes they are supported by the entire team from the practice courts all the way to the very last match.
Generally the more experienced players work with the new players to help them prepare for the level of competition that they will face in tournaments.
“When you’re teaching someone technique, you’re also learning with them,” senior Scottie Moler said. “Overall, it makes everyone a better player.”
For players like Mitchell, the support of others makes all the difference.
“After my game, I was just so thankful that my team had all helped me to get there,” Mitchell said. “I knew I couldn’t have gotten there without them being behind me the whole time.”
The entire women’s team seemed to have banded together to turn the tournament around and bring home another first place trophy, Burnett said.
“There came a time when the ladies kept reporting wins,” he said. “On Friday morning I stopped and said ‘You know, I think we’re going to win!’ I would like to say it was because of great coaching, but it’s not. It’s great players.”