Handball teams keen for start of competition

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Otago handball players finally have something to look forward to.

Like most other sports, handball organisers cancelled the majority of plans for the year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

For the organisation, this included a junior trip to Sweden, hosting an annual tournament in Queenstown and attending the national school competition.

Player and coach Eoin Murray had hoped to build on last year’s successes.

Last year, participation in schools almost doubled, multiple teams won national championships and two social leagues ran.

“It was such a big year,” Murray said.

“We were going to start thinking about taking the next step and increasing the number of teams.

“All of these great plans, they were suddenly impacted.”

So, when New Zealand moved into Alert Level 2, Otago Handball reassessed the season and targeted competitions it wanted to attend.

This includes sending teams to the Auckland open tournament, competing for the South Island Shield in Christchurch and defending its title at the national club championships in Wellington.

“Sometimes it’s tough for us to get to these competitions because everything costs money, obviously, but this year we’re trying to make a big push to get to as many competitions around the country as possible.”

They planned to send men’s and women’s teams to the Auckland tournament in the first weekend of August, he said.

A few weeks later, teams would travel to Christchurch for the second round of the South Island Shield.

It is a competition between Canterbury and Otago teams, developed last year between the two regions.

“We’re trying to get a load of the juniors playing this year to get them some experience in senior handball.

“We have really close connections with Canterbury Handball so we try to grow the sport together.”

At the club championships in September, the women’s team will aim to defend its title.

“The men were third, so we’ve got a lot to live up to this year,” Murray said with a laugh.

As well as the region’s strong senior players, he hoped to take junior players to expose them to the “high performance environment”.

“Last year we had quite a few of our juniors making national teams.

“It’s their time to start stepping up to the senior level.”

The organisation’s social league started on Sunday and aimed to give people a chance at the sport.

“Everybody’s very excited to get back on court.”