Considering they’ve only been involved in the sport for a little over three years a pair of Central Alberta athletes have made an impression on the national scene.
Both Bryn MacDougall and Chelsea Antonio got involved in team handball in 2014 at Notre Dame High School and this year they were named to the Canadian juvenile team to compete in the Youth Pan American Championships in Chile.
The pair returned from the championships late Sunday where Canada placed sixth.
“It was tough competition. We didn’t go in there expecting to win, but we learned a lot,” said MacDougall, a Grade 12 student at Notre Dame.
“There were several top teams there, especially Brazil and Argentina,” added Antonio, who just finished her first year at RDC. “It was definitely a learning experience. It was a big change from what we were used to. The biggest thing was the speed of the game and the passion they have for the game.”
The sport is huge in Brazil, especially on the women’s side. They’re the only country outside of Europe to win the women’s world championship when they captured the title in 2013.
The Red Deer women were scouted by the Canadian coach while playing for Team Alberta.
‘I was invited to a junior national team tryout camp in Edmonton and from there to the juvenile camp in Quebec,” explained Antonio, who plays in goal.
MacDougall, a right wing, took a similar road although she was invited directly to the Quebec camp.
The two, combined with a pair of players out of Sherwood Park, were the only members of the Canadian team outside of Quebec.
“It was interesting playing with the others, but the toughest part was that we didn’t get much training time,” said MacDougall, who got into the sport in an effort to find something to do once speed skating is over for the season.
“I was in speed skating for several years, but once I got into handball, and it took off, I decided to concentrate on it,” she said.
Antonio, who played goal in soccer, was asked to try out for the Notre Dame team as they were in need of a goalie.
“It was fun,” she said. “Because I played goal in soccer I adapted quickly. You have the same basic movements so it was an easy transition, but then there are several differences as well. In soccer you rely on your hands to make the saves while in handball you use your body.”
Antonio was the starting netminder for the Canadian team, although she’s behind two older players with the provincial junior program.
MacDougall is looked at as a scorer with the high school and provincial teams, but it was tougher at the international level.
“They played a system that put a lot more pressure on the wings to cut off the scoring,” said MacDougall, who believes her time on the speed skating oval was important for her transition to team handball.
“In speed skating you’re out there as an individual, which I found helped me to be mentally tougher when I’m with the team,” she said. “I can push myself that much harder.”
The five-foot-eight MacDougall gives Notre Dame coach Darcy McQuillan a lot of credit for her development, along with the Team Alberta coach.
She will graduate from Notre Dame in June and will attend the University of Alberta next year taking general sciences. She will continue to train with Team Alberta with an eye on the future.
“I would certainly like to make the National senior team and if the opportunity presents itself I would like to play in Europe. The sport is huge over there.”
Antonio will transfer to the U of A and take political science in the fall, so she will also be able to train with the provincial team and also would like to one day play for the Canadian senior team.
The provincial team will compete in the Canadians in Winnipeg in May while the national team will also be involved in an international event in Quebec in August.