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Date: 11/28/2018
 

The 2018 Asian Women’s Championship, throwing off on November 29 in Japan, will be a special event for Oceania, as both Australia and New Zealand will make their debuts at the event. For New Zealand, it is the first international championship the women’s senior side have contested outside of Oceania.

 

“The team is really excited to get to play on the world stage. We have been training and talking about the Asian champs for the last 18 months and now it’s finally here. We are ready to show what we can do,” says team captain Jaclyn Parker.

 

Considering it is their debut at the event, the main focus is on gaining experience as the New Zealand Handball Federation works tirelessly to grow the sport across the country.

 

“The main goal would be to grow handball in New Zealand. Setting the standards for, and experiencing the level of world handball, those girls will have to aim for. We aim to broaden each players’ experience and expectations and develop training goals beyond our developing nation's basic handball experiences so far,” says head coach Ben Birkenhake, while assistant coach Eoin Murray adds:

 

“This will be a first senior competition outside of Oceania for most of the team so it’s going to be a shock to the system for them, especially facing the home nation in the opening match. But I think they’re strong enough to deal with the pressure and show that New Zealand has developed some very promising female players. The girls are all fierce competitors, so I think any team that underestimates them is in for a shock. We’re aiming to compete strongly in every match and even try to force a win or two in the later games.”

 

New Zealand will begin their campaign in preliminary Group A, alongside fellow Oceania side Australia, as well as Japan, Kazakhstan and Iran.

 

“The first two matches will see us take on two powerhouses of Asian and world handball in Japan and Kazakhstan, which will be a big step up in ability and experience for our team. Hopefully, we can stay healthy and mentally strong through those games and then face our old 'foes' Australia in what should be quite an interesting contest. They're a strong team that we know quite well but this will be a different setting and with second round places on the line, it should be really competitive! Iran we don't know much about – but they looked strong and fast in the last edition of this competition and we won't be taking them at all lightly,” says Murray of the group opponents.

 

The team are prepared for a challenging championship, and Parker says the experience gained will be highly valuable for the players competing as well as for handball in New Zealand as a whole. Coach Birkenhake agrees:

 

“There is no doubt that we will experience a major learning curve, having to defend and attack out of our experience depth against professional handball players and teams. Team spirit and every player's individual strength will be tested to keep playing challenging handball through some of the hardest games,” says the head coach.

 

“Regardless, it will be the best experience for our players, representing their country, to challenge themselves, and take the opportunity to enhance their skills and show how far they have come. It will set future goals for New Zealand handball. We need to have our players experience this if we are to improve the standard of handball in our country.”

 

The event in Kumamoto, Yamaga and Yatsushiro marks the end of the first cycle since the new qualification pathway for Oceania nations to reach the World Championship was introduced. Both New Zealand and Australia competed in the Asian Men’s Championship earlier this year.


The Asian Women’s Championship runs from November 30 to December 9.


Photo: New Zealand Handball Federation

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