Lake Forest College’s Division I handball team has been ranked one of the best teams in the nation for the past 40 years, but most of the handball team is made up of athletes who were not recruited to play handball.
For the past several decades, most, if not all, of the women’s handball team has been incorporated with students who have never slapped a handball prior to attending the College.
This year only four players on the men’s team were recruited, and the entire women’s team was homegrown. Both the women’s and the men’s handball teams include athletes recruited for their fall or spring sports, but for some of them, this sport was their blessing in disguise.
Madison Drake ’20 has been a competitive swimmer since she was 5-years-old and was recruited to swim for the College. After she felt her body was failing to recover from the rigorous conditions of swimming, she quit the sport for something new: handball.
“As an athlete, I’m not used to playing land sports, so this was one of the first land sports I played at a higher level,” Drake said. “It changed me in regards to the type of athlete I am, while also the workouts and skills I have that are necessary in the water versus the court.”
For some athletes who changed sports, handball was not their backup plan; it was their only plan. Kyra Vidas ’18 played four years on her varsity high school basketball team at Taft High School and her father was a long-time professional basketball player in Europe. She was cut from the College’s basketball team her freshman year and was lucky enough to meet a few handball players that convinced her to try out for the team.
“I knew what handball was because a few of my cousins were great players here years ago, but I never thought I would be where I am today,” Vidas said. “So many things went through my mind: If I wanted to transfer, where would I go? Would I ever play a sport again?”
Vidas went from being one of the lower-level players two years ago to becoming an All-American this year at The National Intercollegiate Handball Championship in Tempe, Arizona. She also was awarded Most Valuable Player and is the recipient of the Forester Commitment Award.
“As an athlete, I picked up a new sport for the first time three years ago,” Vidas said. “I have put more work into this game to be where I am today. I definitely grew as an athlete by putting in extra time before and after practice to be the best I can be.”
Carter Kounovsky ’20 also came to the College to play basketball. Resembling Vidas, Kounovsky’s dreams of playing competitive collegiate ball came to an end when he was cut from the team. Kounovsky came close to leaving the College and going back to school in Colorado, but handball became his reason to stay. “After handball, I became more dedicated and expected more out of myself both as an athlete and as a person,” he said. Kounovsky was awarded Most Improved Player for the College his freshman and sophomore year, while becoming the nation’s Most Improved Player at last year’s collegiate tournament.
Handball has changed the lives of many athletes throughout the years at Lake Forest College. “Without handball, I would never have met one of the most influential coaches I’ve ever had,” Kounovsky said of Coach Mike Dau ’58, who started the program in 1968. “Handball made me appreciate more in life more after losing Paula,” said Vidas. Paula Dau ’58 was the beloved wife of Coach Dau who passed away this past winter. She served as the mother of the handball team and inspired every athlete who came through the program.
Handball became a saving grace to those who thought they would never be athletes again.
“Although my dream of playing college basketball came to an end early, I have come to realize that it was a blessing,” said Vidas. “If it weren’t for getting cut, I would never have met the Dau family and the people from all over the country (and) world who will remain lifelong friends. I am so blessed to be a part of this program and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”