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Handball pros join Dennis Hopper and John Malkovich in upcoming film.

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Priscilla Shumate after winning in the USHA 2000 One-Wall Nationals this summer.
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Priscilla Shumate after winning in the USHA 2000 One-Wall Nationals this summer
Close-up with Priscilla Shumate
Going where no other player has gone before Priscilla Shumate rocked the handball world this year by capturing the one-wall, three-wall and four-wall National Singles titles. For the piéce de résistance, Priscilla then went on to claim the four-wall World Championship as well.

Not bad for a 25 year old Brazillian who discovered the sport just six years ago. "Actually I got into the sport by mistake," she said. "I had been involved in team handball in High School and when I started college, I registered for handball as my first phys-ed class. I was quite surprised to learn it was a totally different game and to be honest, I hated it at first. But I figured I might as well do my best since there was no way to get out. I guess it just kind of grew on me."

Not a typical introduction to the sport for a future world champion. Until quite recently, Priscilla had no idea that she could achieve this type of accomplishment. "At the beginning of the year my mind was just focused on the Worlds. I said to myself, if I lost every other tournament it would be ok as long as I won that. Looking back, I think that not expecting to win any of the other tournaments might have helped my game, easing some of the pressure that I would have put on myself."

As the year developed, Priscilla's goals grew with it. She did well in the Pro Stops and decided to go to the Nationals in June. "I hadn't been to the Nationals since 1996 and I'd never been a champion, so I wanted to win. But at that point I was moving and changing jobs and didn't have enough time to put into playing. The result was that while I didn't feel physically prepared I was very relaxed mentally and this made a tremendous difference in my game."

Four-Wall Nationals just a beginning

"After winning the Four-wall Championship I thought that would be it, but the USHA helped me get to NY for the One-Wall Nationals. Last year I kind of snuck up on people, because they didn't know my game, this year people were ready for me, so I had a more difficult time."

While it might have been more difficult, the outcome was the same. Priscilla had not only defended her one-wall title, but had accomplished something unique, winning both the one and four wall championships in the same year. At that point she decided to go to Toledo and try for the three-wall championship as well. Again, Priscilla attributes her relaxed attitude and low personal expectations to her ability to compete and win the tournament.

For those rising in the sport, the challenge is to handle the pressure of the big match; when you're battling it out with someone who's already been there. As Priscilla's victories mounted, the challenge changed. "The biggest transition has been from being a huge underdog to always having to be in the top four," she said. I didn't have much time in the middle and for awhile this played with my game. I've needed to develop a little maturity to handle being expected to win. The most important thing is not what is expected of me by others, but how I deal with myself.

Winning the Worlds

At the Worlds Priscilla began trying to keep that relaxed attitude. I kept saying to myself, "if you can't do it it's ok." That worked until I stepped on the court for the finals."

This was the match Priscilla had been waiting for all year, the only won she felt really counted. Still even though her blood was pumping, the pressure was different. "It wasn't an external thing from outside, it was just me, my own deternimation, settling in. I was never as calm, as emotionless thoughout the game. When I made an error, I didn't dwell on it. I didn't scream or get down on myself. This was a change, a more mature attitude than I've had in the past. I'm very emotional but this time I was able to grab a hold of myself and stay controlled."

It's been over a month since the Worlds, yet Priscilla has not played a game since. "I'm still exhausted from the whole year," she said. "I'm enjoying the break."

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