"An honour and a privilege to be here"

25 Jun. 2024

"An honour and a privilege to be here"

Two years ago, Mexico returned at the IHF Women’s Junior World Championship for the first time since 2010, when they finished on the 18th place, with a win against Thailand and another one against Hong Kong. Until North Macedonia 2024, Mexico had featured in 14 matches in the competition, winning only two, but their ambitions are as high as ever.

So far, in their third appearance at the world handball flagship competition in this younger age category, Mexico have conceded four losses in four matches – 20:33 against the Republic of Korea, 10:54 against Hungary, 16:41 against Argentina and 12:47 against Japan.

Sure enough, the learning curve has been steep for the team that made it here by winning the junior competition at the 2023 Women's IHF Trophy – North America and the Caribbean, but, in the eyes of their players and the staff, it was all worth it.

“It is a dream to be here and feature against some of the best teams in the world. It is an honour and a privilege. We can learn a lot from these matches, we can improve, we can see whatever happens and what trends are emerging, so we can become better in the future,” says team captain Valeria Virgen Lezama.

So far, Mexico have scored only 58 goals in four matches, tied with the United States of America for the second lowest number in the competition, with only Algeria scoring less. But for the team representing the North America and the Caribbean Confederation, improvement trumps results and being on the biggest stage is the only way they can become better.

Two years ago, at Slovenia 2022, Mexico lost all their seven matches, including the Placement Match 31/32 against the United States of America, 26:28. One year ago, in the last match of the 2023 Women's IHF Trophy – North America and the Caribbean, they drew against the USA, 24:24, winning the trophy. Now, they are at North Macedonia 2024 and their colourful kits have taken the eyes of many, representing the true nature of Mexico – passionate and vibrant.

“We are improving, of course, but handball is not that popular in Mexico, but we are working hard to improve and making it more popular, of course. It is not easy, but if we are here, we deserve to be here and doing our best to learn more and represent our country,” adds Virgen Lezama.

Mexico also ranks second in the number of turnovers, tied with Chile at 105, but they have also faced one of the favourites of the competition, Hungary, who conceded the second lowest number of goals, plus two Asian sides, who are traditionally difficult to play against for non-Asian sides, due to their physicality and speed.

Nevertheless, Mexico are due to face another Asian team in the last match of their group in the President’s Cup, the Chinese Taipei, before heading to the placement matches, where they aim to secure at least one win and leave North Macedonia 2024 with their heads up high. For that, they will need Virgen Lezama at her best, after the back has scored 12 goals so far, or 20.6% of Mexico’s goals at the 2024 IHF Women’s Junior World Championship. 

“I am watching as much handball as I can on YouTube and I try to model my game after the best players in the world. Of course, it is difficult, but maybe in the future, we will get even better. Like I have said before, I love handball and it is an honour to be here and represent my country,” says Mexico’s captain.

As Mexico have never made it to the IHF Women’s World Championship in 26 editions of the competition, there is still plenty of time for the team representing the North America and the Caribbean Confederation to make it through. But Virgen Lezama is confident that eventually, Mexico will get there.

Until that moment, the captain of the Mexico women’s junior handball team is living the moment at North Macedonia 2024. And she also has an eye on beach handball, a discipline she also plays in sporadically when at home. Because for Valeria Virgen Lezama, handball is her life.