Carmel native picks up team handball, joins national team
Kelly Renie is proving equally adept at using her hands as well as her feet.
The former Carmel High School soccer standout recently joined the U.S. Team Handball women's national team.
After helping the Greyhounds to the 2000 IHSAA state championship her senior year, Renie continued her soccer career at the University of Mississippi. The 23-year-old graduated in December.
"Being that my college career was coming to an end, I wanted to continue with athletics in some way, shape or form and was looking to take up a new sport, so it came about at the right time," said Renie, who has already played in one game with the national team. "The concept of all sports is the same -- you're out there to compete."
Because there is no grass-roots programming, U.S. Team Handball looks to convert athletes from other sports.
Renie's path to the national team was set in motion when Ole Miss soccer coach Steve Holeman received an e-mail from then-national team coach Christian Latulippe. The U.S. team was looking for fast, fearless athletes who could throw and catch a ball, and had or would soon be finishing their college eligibility.
"He basically described Kelly Renie," Holeman said.
Renie, the 2002 Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year and 2004 SEC All-Tournament pick, was the quickest player on Holeman's team. He also remembered her prowess at sprout ball, a preseason team-bonding activity played by the Rebels that is similar to dodgeball.
"Everybody was afraid of Kelly," Holeman said. "She has an arm and could just wing it."
The first time Renie ever played team handball was at a tryout in January, but she was invited back to join the team. Renie joined the residency program and in March moved to the training center at the State University of New York at Cortland.
Now, her weekly routine consists of morning weight training and evening practices Mondays and Thursdays, morning and evening practices on Tuesdays and Fridays and scrimmages on Saturdays. Sundays and Wednesdays are days off.
Eighteen athletes train in Cortland, and the team draws from a pool of about 25 to 30 athletes. Coach Dawn Allinger Lewis said even though a selection committee didn't pick Renie for the upcoming Pan American team, she has been a pleasant surprise.
"I think she's doing all the right things," said Allinger Lewis, a former Olympian. "She's there training with the program and gives it 100 percent. The main thing is needing time to develop. To expect someone to come in and two months later compete in the Pan Am championships is a little unrealistic."
Renie, who plays in the left wing, is undersized at 5-3 but uses her quickness to her advantage. She is a quick study.
Said Allinger Lewis: "She's got a great work ethic and attitude. With her athletic background, she has the ability to listen and adapt to whatever you're trying to tell her."
Longtime Carmel varsity soccer coach Frank Dixon is amazed but not surprised that the former Greyhound and Carmel United Soccer Club standout has made the adjustment.
"The ability to tactically read the game, I think, translates into any sport," Dixon said.
Still, when Renie tells friends and family back home she is now playing team handball, many are confused. Most Americans think of racquetball, she said.
"I think most people aren't really sure what to think because most people don't know what team handball is,"
Renie said. "It's not something a lot of people do or know much about. Our players really believe in the sport, and it would be great to see it take off. It's got a lot that Americans like in their sports"
There are seven players on each team, including a goalie, and the object is to throw the ball in the back of the net. Play consists of two, 30-minute halves with scores usually in the 30s.
Renie said the ball used in team handball is similar in size and look to a child's soccer ball. The game itself is similar to basketball with its passing and dribbling, and played on an even larger court. Physical play, including fouling, is encouraged.
Allinger Lewis likes to call handball "the greatest sport they haven't seen." She said it is second only to soccer in terms of popularity in many areas of Europe, where there are pro leagues.
By Kristen Leigh Porter
photos Janos Schmidt