Of the many memorable moments from Albin Mollerstedt’s senior trip – three weeks in Europe with seven friends from Los Altos High – one clearly ranks above the rest.
It was teaming with his buddies to play in the Åhus Beach Handball Tournament last month in his native Sweden.
“It was an extremely fun experience for all of us, and we all had a great time,” Mollerstedt said. “The rest of our trip went really well, too, but the beach handball tournament was definitely the best part.”
While Mollerstedt noted that he “had a great time in all of the different places” they visited – Iceland, Denmark, Italy, France and Spain – the chance to play in Europe’s largest beach handball tournament was special. The annual tourney – billed as “Sweden’s most famous and appreciated summer event” – is held in the small town where Mollerstedt’s family owns a summer house.
“I played in it with my club team when I lived in Sweden and also continued playing in the tournament even after I moved to the United States, as my family and I went back to visit every summer,” said Mollerstedt, a resident of Los Altos since age 9.
Team handball is among the most popular sports in Sweden, according to Mollerstedt, but “is not very big in the United States.” It is similar to soccer, except the competitors on each team (six field players and a goalie per side) pass the ball with their hands instead of feet or head to get it in the goal.
Although only Mollerstedt and one of his Los Altos High friends had ever played handball before, he said they “thought it would be a really fun idea to participate” in the tournament. After all, “We were already planning to visit Sweden on our senior trip and we are all athletes,” he added.
So Mollerstedt, David Lisbonne, Victor Yu, Max Sullivan, Adam Rosenbaum, Tommy Andrews, Jay Uppuluri and Aidan Kelleher registered as a team in the Exercise Class, a division open to those not currently playing in a league.
But they didn’t go into the tournament unprepared.
“We practiced twice before our trip – just to learn about the game and understand the rules – and when we arrived at my summer house in Sweden, we spent the first few days practicing more in my backyard,” said Mollerstedt, who played four seasons of soccer at Los Altos. “We also spent two days at the actual tournament, watching games and playing on our own when there were open courts available.”
When their division of the tourney began play July 22, the eight Eagles took the court wearing replicas of the basketball jerseys worn in 1992 by the gold-medal winning U.S. men’s basketball team – known as the Dream Team.
“We wore the Dream Team jerseys because we wanted to really show that we were the team from America,” Mollerstedt said, “and also we are all big basketball fans, so we thought it was a cool way to combine the two parts.”
But would the Dream Team’s winning ways rub off on an inexperienced group of handball players from Los Altos?
Mollerstedt wasn’t sure.
“When the day came for us to play, I had mixed feelings about our chances of success,” he said. “I knew we were athletic enough to play decently well, but we would also be playing against teams full of old handball players who were now grown men and much bigger than us. “
They got off to a great start, winning their opening game of group play 10-3. After another win, one tie and a loss, the team took third in its group and advanced to the playoffs.
“In our first playoff game, the round of 16, we played a team that finished as the first seed in their group, so we did not have a ton of confidence that we would be able to win,” Mollerstedt said. “However, with some great team defense and good ball movement on the offensive end, we were able to break them down for a 12-7 win, advancing us to the quarterfinals.”
That’s where this team’s dream came to an end. The locals lost 11-4 to a squad that Mollerstedt described as “very skilled.” But finishing fifth out of 60 teams in the Exercise Division was “a huge success,” he said.
After returning home in early August, the eight Los Altos grads started preparing for college. Mollerstedt will return to Sweden to attend Lunds Universitet, Yu and Sullivan are now at UC Berkeley, Uppuluri is bound for UCLA, Andrews is headed to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Rosenbaum is off to Babson College, Lisbonne is going to the University of Michigan and Kelleher starts classes at Sonoma State this week.