One could say that in the northeast zone, the Notre Dame boys have been dominating a sport that isn’t often heralded as much as the other court sports.
The game of handball — a unique, yet fairly unpopular sport compared to volleyball and basketball — does have a strong foothold in the Lakeland area, with high school teams from Bonnyville, Mallaig, and St. Paul routinely duking it out for the zone banner.
But the ENDHS senior boys team has routinely come out on top in recent years. Last week, they won another zone championship, which continues a gold medal streak that began in 2016.
“There’s the physicality and speed of hockey, with the finesse that comes with the skills of basketball and maybe soccer,” said coach Daniel Dargis, who’s headmanned the ENDHS handball team for 12 years.
Handball falls on the school sports category at an awkward time. It begins in mid-February, a ways into the basketball season, and then crosses over into the badminton season.
Teams play with six players a side and a goalie at one time. Playing with a round ball, attackers try to score goals on the large, soccer-like nets. However, goaltenders have a large crease area to operate within.
To advance the ball, you can dribble in a straight line, or pass to a teammate. But unlike basketball, the physical aspect of the game is part and parcel. It’s a rough and tumble game.
“When people watch the first time they’re kind of flabbergasted,” said Dargis.
While very popular in Europe, handball is routinely enjoyed by schools by in the big centers like Edmonton, Calgary, and Red Deer.
So, the ENDHS boys team travels there for tournaments. This season, they got to play in two of those tournaments, finishing 5th and 2nd, respectively.
The players are committed as well. In order to steer clear of their schedules and other sports, practices are held bright and early at 6:30am, twice a week.
The early bird, has gotten the worm.
“We’ve had a ton of success against larger schools, so the Tier I schools, and we actually haven’t had a lot of time to play against schools of our size. At zones, we had that opportunity and we were very successful against teams that were in our kind of category,” said Dargis.
“In terms of development, it’s shaping up to be, hopefully, a very good showing for our boys here.”
The bus will depart Bonnyville today and head to Lacombe where Tier Two ASAA Handball Provincials are being held, with the tournament beginning on Thursday.
Optimism reigns for this team to pursue the medal round for Provincials after a successful showing in Ashmont for zones.
Teams are divided from bigger schools (499 students or larger) into Tier I and (499 students and fewer) into Tier II.
The northeast zone will also be represented by Two Hills School, filling two of the eight slots in the tournament.
In their pool is Mayerthorpe, Oilfields, and the host school in Central Alberta Catholic.
Their first game is Thursday night at 7:00pm.
Meanwhile in the girls draw, St. Paul Regional High School will represent as zones champs.
They begin at 4:00pm on Thursday against Mayerthorpe.