Late last month, another small piece of British Handball history was made as the GB Women’s U17 team made their international debut at a friendly tournament held in Serbia.
The team, led by Head Coach Bill Baillie, travelled to the eastern Serbian city of Smederevo which lies on the banks of the River Danube, for the ‘Trophy of Smederevo 2019’ event.
The event attracts teams of various ages from across Europe and North Africa, with six men’s events (2002/03 generation, 04, 05,06/07, 08, 09/10) and five women’s events (02/03, 04/05, 06/07, 08/09, senior).
Teams from Romania, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, France, Hungary, Slovenia, Russia, Bulgaria, Estonia, Montenegro, Tunisia and Algeria all took part over the four-day competition (22-25 August).
The GB team competed in the ‘Girls 2002-03’ competition where they faced Slovenian side Vrhnika, SK Reval from Estonia, Arsenal Taureni from Romania and local side Kosmaj.
And in their very first official game the team, which featured a mixture of new players and some who had been involved with the U19 squad last season, beat their Romanian opponents Arsenal Taureni 16:15 and then made it two from two with a win over the Slovenians of Vrhnika 17:15 in a tight game which saw the scores level at the half-time break (7:7).
The second day saw two tough losses, against SK Reval (16:9) and eventual tournament gold medallists Kosmaj 20:18, despite the GB team leading at the break. However, with their semi-final spot already guaranteed, coach Baillie used the opportunity to rotate the bench and try new tactical systems.
Despite the defeats, GB confirmed a third-place finish in the preliminary group, and a semi-final clash against Reval. The final four match was a much closer affair, but GB could not overturn a three-goal half-time deficit (11:8), eventually losing 19:16.
With a bronze medal to play for in their final match, Vrhnika got some revenge, managing to overcome GB 4:2 from the seven-metre spot in a shootout to take the medal after the game had finished 17:17 thanks to a heartbreaking last-second equaliser from the Slovenian team.
“This was a mainly inexperienced squad, but the players showed plenty of character and composure in tight situations,” said coach Baillie after the competition.
“The tournament was a great experience for the players, who did well to reach the semi-final and who were on par with their rivals for most of the matches.
“What we lacked in the bronze medal match was valuable match experience, which was the whole reason for entering the competition – experiences like holding on to beat the Romanians in the first game, controlling the game to beat the Slovenians in our second match, losing a six-goal lead to the eventual winners and, finally, the pressure of a semi-final and bronze medal match.
“We managed to surprise many of those in attendance with our quality,” added Baillie, “including the local media and organisers, many of whom now know about Great Britain handball thanks to the hard work of all of our players and staff who were great ambassadors for British Handball – the girls were terrific ambassadors for the sport.”
Bill Baillie and British Handball would like to thank Kosmaj who were the perfect hosts, as well as GB team assistant coach Amy Hardwick, who despite going down early with tonsillitis, never let the team down, Nenad Popovic for his support and vast experience as manager, and Beth Aldred who worked tirelessly to keep the players fit and able.
GB U17 Squad:
Akira Adeniran-Lowe West London Eagles
Gabrielle Leese Mostar (BiH)
Rebecca Titchford Shropshire
Zoe Lacour West London Eagles
Jodi Bletcher Shropshire
Holly Luke Stroud
Felicity Lawrence Cambridge
Olivia Whitty Cannock
Florence Jones-Jobst Stroud
Naomi Bell Medway
Alex Neilson Stroud
Grace Cappell Stroud
Tyla Sartain West London Eagles
Ilana Turner Stroud
Alice Beresford Biddeford
Sonia Nashenkina Cambridge
Paige Schofield NEM Hawks
Bill Baillie Head Coach
Amy Hardwick Assistant Coach
Nenad Popovic Manager
Beth Aldred Physio
GB - Arsenal Taureni (ROM) 16-15
GB - Vrhnika (SLO) 17-15
GB – Kosmai (SRB) 18-20
GB – SK Reval (EST) 9-16
Semi-Final – GB - SK Reveal 16-19
Bronze match – GB – Vrhnika 17-17 (Vhrhnika win 4-2 on penalties)