As part of their preparations for the Women’s F19 EHF Championship which will be held in Bulgaria in July, the Great Britain Under-19 Women squad have just completed a busy March with tournaments in both Portugal and Ireland.
The squad first travelled to Lagos, Portugal, to participate in the prestigious ‘Torneio das Descobertas’ with Head Coach Bill Baillie selecting a number of players who had yet to make their GB debut.
In their opening game against host nation Portugal, the lack of international experience did not matter as GB went in at the break 12:11 up. However, the second half saw a much-improved Portuguese performance, and, combined with a costly series of GB two-minute suspensions, Baillie’s side lost their grip and went down fighting 27:17.
Three further games followed, against experienced club sides, which all repeated the similar pattern of two different halves as GB suffered losses against Spanish side Solucar (24:12) and Portuguese teams GIL Eanes (23:17) and Benfica (29:19), who would go on to win the tournament.
“The tournament was a good opportunity to give our new players a run-out and experience high-level handball against seasoned opponents,” said Baillie. “In each game their performance improved, and they adapted well to their opponents – it was all very encouraging”
Following their trip to southern European, two weeks later Baillie and his squad made the short hop to Dublin to take part in the tri-nation ‘IOHA Cup’. Going into the tournament featuring hosts Ireland and Belgium alongside Great Britain, Baillie had made seven changes to his team from those in Portugal.
In their opening match against Ireland, GB took some time to deal with effective back play from the home nation, but, led by a strong performance from captain Storm Judge, GB went in 18:10 at the break.
Never in trouble, they kept up the pressure in the second period to win 42:22 with Judge receiving the MVP award and the team gaining a vital confidence boost ahead of the tough final match against Belgium.
The clash against the Belgians, who fielded six new players, was a highly-competitive nail-biter with Belgium starting the stronger of the two, building an early four-goal lead. But GB managed to steady themselves and went into the break down by three (13:10). The second half saw GB rotate their bench and slowly claw back the deficit, eventually equalising in the dying seconds to seal a 21:21 draw.
Akira Adeniran-Lowe put in a stand-out performance in the GB goal, with a superb 45% save rate and was rightly named MVP.
“Our team played an excellent tournament and the draw with Belgium was by far this group of players’ best performance to date,” said Baillie. “This has given us a lot of positives to build on as we go forward.”
The primarily self-funded Great Britain Under-19 Women side are next on the road from 17-20 May when they travel to Denmark for a training camp.
Photo: Mario Moreira