Two U students play in handball nationals

The tournament was played at the University’s recreation center.

Kinesiology senior Kristina Rude warms up before her game in the 64th United States Handball Association National Four-Wall Championships at the Recreational and Wellness Center on Saturday. Rude was __

Holly Peterson

Kinesiology senior Kristina Rude warms up before her game in the 64th United States Handball Association National Four-Wall Championships at the Recreational and Wellness Center on Saturday. Rude was __

Joe Perovich

Kristina Rude discovered handball as a freshman in a University of Minnesota physical education class. Now, three years later, she’s earning first-place titles and playing in national competitions.

Rude, a kinesiology senior, participated in the 64th United States Handball Association National Four-Wall Championships last week, which the University’s recreation center hosted. The event drew competitors from all around the world, but for two participants, the competition wasn’t far from home.

Law student Ryan Pesch was the only other participant from the University, and he played in the competition’s highest-ranked bracket. More than 270 handballers convened at the center to compete in nearly three dozen events.

Similar handball events are few and far between. Matt Johnson, president of the Minnesota State Handball Association, said the nontraditional sport has seemed to decrease in popularity since the late 1970s.

“There were very competitive [professional] teams, and I think [handball] was taught more by universities and colleges than it is now, which is a shame,” he said. “That was kind of the peak of popularity for sure.”

But Pesch said there is opportunity for the sport to grow with the few junior level programs active nationwide, and Rude said it’s important for people who begin the sport to stick with it for the game to gain popularity.

“People will start and do a tournament, and usually it doesn’t go so well, and then they quit right away,” she said.

The sizable gap between beginners and experienced players is problematic, Rude said, because then newcomers don’t have people at their own level to play with.

The two University students play together at least twice a week, sharing playing strategies and helping each other sharpen their skills to overcome other challengers.

“When [Rude] has a specific opponent coming up that she knows, [we’ll] talk about what she might use against that person, and then she’ll try it against me,” Pesch said.

Pesch didn’t place in the A-level of competition, but Rude went 3-0 in B-level matches, where no opponent reached above double digits while playing her. It takes 21 points to win a match.

Titles aside, Rude said Pesch’s skill set is admirable, and playing together presents her with a challenge.

“He’s obviously a lot better than me,” she said. “But it’s good to play with people at a different level,” she said.