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Ohio State alumna working toward Olympic dreams after lone year of club sport

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OSU alumna Katiann Scherer. Credit: Courtesy of Katiann Scherer

OSU alumna Katiann Scherer.
Credit: Courtesy of Katiann Scherer

A single year of a club sport is paying dividends for one former Buckeye.

Katiann Scherer, a 2014 graduate of Ohio State, is the current goalie for the USA women’s team handball squad. The animal science major played just one year on the club team handball team at OSU, while also volunteering and working at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium and OSU’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Her path is an unconventional one, but, perhaps, it is a fitting way to arrive on the national team for a sport that receives very little attention in the U.S.

Considered to be “soccer with your hands,” team handball features six court players, along with a goalie. Team handball was first played in the Olympics at the 1936 Berlin Games, but it was not until the 1976 Montreal Games that women’s team handball debuted.

The U.S. has never medaled at the Olympics in the sport. Both the men’s and women’s top finishes came at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, where the men placed ninth and women placed fifth.

According to Scherer, handball is the “most American sport that Americans don’t know about.”

Scherer’s journey to the sport began at OSU’s annual Fall Student Involvement Fair, where she and her sister were looking for a club team sport to play together. Since the sisters each played soccer in high school and enjoyed the physical aspect of the sport, the search landed the pair with the OSU Team Handball club.

“I had played (handball) a couple times in middle school,” Scherer said. “But besides that, I really had zero experience or knew what I was doing before joining the club team.”

With that being said, Scherer began attending practices for about six months, although she admitted she didn’t know just how much she would enjoy the sport. But as time progressed, the team’s then-coach, Mark Ortega, began to notice the potential in the goalie.

“I took a shot to the face during the practice, and (Ortega) noticed that I got right back up and liked my hustle,” Scherer said.

Ortega, a former men’s national team handball player, became coach of the club team at OSU in order to “recruit” players to possibly try out for the women’s national team.

Ortega told Scherer that she had the skills and abilities to make the squad and recommended that she travel to Auburn, Alabama, for the tryout. Following the advice of her coach, Scherer made the trip south to the facility of the USA Team Handball Residency Program, the location of the tryout.

The former Buckeye, filled with nerves and with less than a year of handball under her belt, performed sensationally. USA coach Christian Latulippe became aware of Scherer’s ability, and granted her a spot on the squad.

“It’s an amazing feeling to be able to represent the United States,” Scherer said. “The opportunity I get to travel, and meet all of these other girls from different countries, is out of this world.”

Members of USA team handball. Credit: Courtesy of Katiann Scherer

Members of USA team handball. Credit: Courtesy of Katiann Scherer

After making her way onto the national team roster, it was time to train and attempt to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics held in Rio de Janeiro.

“I was in Auburn for the past year, and we went to a few different countries to train, and also qualify through the (Pan-American) Games in Toronto this past summer,” Scherer said.

Those training sessions and matches included trips to Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and Cuba, as well as a meeting with the Canadian national team in Auburn. However, the women’s team did not qualify for this year’s Olympics, and will now attempt to work and win its way to a bid to the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Over this past fall, Scherer made her way to France to try out for professional handball teams in order to stay fit and train during the national team’s offseason.

“It’s like baseball here in America,” Scherer said. “They have minor league teams for amateurs, and the goal is to work your way up to the professional level.”

Scherer made a team in a small town of Hazebrouck, France. However, complicated visa requirements, combined with her little grasp of the French language, led her to opt to pass on the offer to play there. She is still remaining active in finding another professional team to join, she said.

“I’m trying to go to a training camp in Hungary at the end of the summer and hope to make some connections there for other possible teams to play with,” Scherer said.

Currently, Scherer is living at home in Canton, where she is working to use her animal science degree by applying for jobs in the field. The Buckeye trains in her spare time, both in Canton and at OSU, in order to stay fit for the upcoming handball season.

Beyond that, Scherer is working hard to find ways to implement team handball in high schools on the state and national levels. This is an attempt to have others gain knowledge of and passion for the sport, just like Scherer developed.

“After that one year down in Alabama, I realized how much I loved (the sport),” Scherer said. “Now I’ve shaped the rest of my life around handball and what (Team USA) is trying to do.”

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