Handball whiz Maria Vallone

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2021 NACHC Women’s Championships | Elgin, Ill. | Aug. 22-25, 2021

An All-American softball player in college, Maria Vallone is now excelling at a sport with an obscure past and a promising future.

Like most people in the United States, Maria Vallone’s only experience with handball had been playing a little bit during gym class. Then, at age 25, she fell in love with the sport and ended up excelling at it.

Vallone, now 30, plays left wing for the U.S. national women’s team. Her resume includes a team fourth place finish at the 2019 Pan American Games — the best result for an American team, men’s or women’s, in many years — and international experience with a top club in Argentina.

Her goal is to join a club in Europe and continue playing with Team USA until at least the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles, to which the home team will qualify automatically.

“We are really excited about that,” she says.

Vallone lives in her native Rochester, New York, where she returned after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. There is no handball club in Rochester, so she has committed to playing with one in Boston.

Vallone grew up playing tennis and softball, and attended Bethany College in West Virginia, a Division III school with a competitive softball program. She graduated with All-American honors and then earned a master’s in business administration from Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania, where she worked as assistant softball coach.

It was during Christmas break in 2015, while working on her MBA, that she discovered handball.

“I was consciously searching for some sport opportunity,” she says. “I wasn’t ready to just coach. I still had a bunch of years left in me, and I wanted to do something, and I found handball.”

“I did research online, and I found out that Team USA was having an open tryout that February,” she continues. “You didn’t have to have any experience. They wanted good athletes who were willing to start playing handball and commit to it. So I said, ‘All right, let’s go for it.’”

Vallone worked on getting in great physical shape and tried out for the national team at its then-headquarters at Auburn University in Alabama. She was selected, so she moved there as soon as she earned her MBA in May 2016.

Her handball experience also includes playing for a club in North Carolina as well as helping coach at Penn State. All the while, she has held jobs to earn a living. She’s currently a personal trainer after previously working in a farmers market and as a technician for hospital orthopedics.

Vallone also serves on Team USA handball’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee. “I was really honored to be able to be part of that,” she says.

She was asked to serve on the committee after a June 2020 Pride Month article published on TeamUSA.org in which she discussed becoming comfortable with being gay and why she’s so passionate about the sport.

“It’s super fast-paced, and it’s physical. It’s a high-scoring sport, with 20 to 30-plus goals per game, and it’s a team sport,” she says. “And the opportunity to travel internationally is amazing.”

Handball is very popular in Europe — particularly in Germany, France, the Netherlands and Sweden — as well as in Brazil and Argentina. But it’s still an obscure sport in the United States, she says, with many of the members on Team USA tracing their roots to other countries and holding dual citizenship.

Vallone says her plan is to see if the new women’s coach for Team USA, Edina Borsos, can help her join a team in Europe. Borsos was named to the post in January. She served as general manager of the French Women’s National Handball Team for 15 years and has coached in the top handball league in Hungary since 2005.

“We are super thrilled,” Vallone says of the team’s reaction to Borsos taking the job.

Vallone says she wants to develop more as a player, hence her drive to join a club in Europe. “I just need to get that good game experience — that good competition.”

The above article appears in the March 2022 issue of the print version of Fra Noi. Our gorgeous, monthly magazine contains a veritable feast of news and views, profiles and features, entertainment and culture. To subscribe, click here.

About Elena Ferrarin

Elena Ferrarin is a native of Rome who has worked as a journalist in the United States since 2002. She has been a correspondent for Fra Noi for more than a decade. She previously worked as a reporter for The Daily Herald in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, The Regional News in Palos Heights and as a reporter/assistant editor for Reflejos, a Spanish-English newspaper in Arlington Heights. She has a bachelor’s degree from Brown University and a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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