Flannery wins national handball title

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 9, 2013 

Bitter was the taste in the mouth of Mike Flannery following his second-place finish at the 2012 Handball National Championships.

Cast aside the fact that he was the lowest seed in the tournament. Forget the notion that he defeated the 2011 champion on consecutive sets in the second round and never mind the reality that it was his first trip to the national championships. Losing in the title match had a consuming quality about it in the wake of defeat.

"You get so close to come up a bit short," Flannery said in a phone interview. "I didn't achieve my goal. I stopped, 'I didn't get it, buck up.'"

Such is life following any tough defeat. Flannery was gracious, but with an eye set toward the 2013 national championships.

And come 2013, Flannery wouldn't have to encounter the sting of defeat. Victory, instead, was his to seize.

Flannery defeated Tim Labey in three sets, 13-21, 21-19, 11-6, in the men's singles 50-plus division in the 2013 Handball National Championship on Sunday, June 30, in Des Moines, Iowa, climbing a mountain he came just shy of conquering a year prior.

While the air is rare at the top, his victory didn't conjure a great swell of joy like he imagined.

"The win was almost an injury default," Flannery said. "The guy I played cramped up at the end of the match. He was playing real tough, and he cramped up. ... I felt like when the match was over, I didn't get his best game."

Those around him felt otherwise.

"Physical condition is a big part of this game," he said of what others were trying to tell him.

It didn't take too long to convince him that like any sport, a level of endurance is required. And without that, well, second place will become an all-too-familiar acquaintance, one he didn't have the pleasure of confronting again.

But his competitor falling prey to lack of preparation wasn't by happenstance. It was Flannery's plan all along to wear him down because based on shear skill, he was the better of the two.

"The mindset, it depends on who you are playing, but he had better handball skills than me," Flannery said, "so my only hope was to outlast him (and) get him fatigued."

Tactics to do so followed, ranging his opponent from side to side, forcing him to cover as much ground as possible.

Fatigue had visibly overtaken his opponent following Flannery's difficult second-set win.

"He was just exhausted in the tiebreaker," Flannery said. "I was stronger physically, so I had to run around enough and stay with him and he got pooped."

The tactic wasn't solely his idea, he admitted, citing the expertise of his long-time friend LeaAnn Martin. Martin, as Flannery explained, "knows as much if not more about handball than anyone in the country."

And just like a boxer and his corner, Flannery allowed Martin's advice to guide him throughout the tournament, digesting what she said and implementing it on the court.

"She just literally told me on each, 'Here is what you got to do with this guy,' and I would go in there and try to do it," Flannery said. "She is a big part of why I got second in 2012 and first in 2013."

Flannery looked a year ahead after losing in the hope of redeeming a failed attempt at a title. After winning, nothing's changed; he's still looking forward to next year.

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