COLLEGE SPOTLIGHT: Skyberg helps Minnesota State to national title

Mavericks won all three open divisions at event

MINNEAPOLIS — Part of the college experience is trying new things.

For former Pipestone Area Schools’ three-sport athlete Carmen Skyberg, she began playing handball for the Minnesota State University squad.

Skyberg won two singles matches at the United States Handball Association national collegiate championships, helping the Mavericks become team champions in the women’s open division. She also was 1-1 in doubles.

The 71st Annual USHA National College Championships took place from Feb. 21-25 at the University of Minnesota.

This also marked the first time in Minnesota State history the school won the combined open, men’s open and women’s open titles all in the same tournament.

Pipestone resident Carmen Skyberg (middle row, white top) and the rest of her Minnesota State University teammates smile showing off their sweep of the open divisions (men’s, women’s and combined) at the United States Handball Association Collegiate Championships, which was conducted at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. Skyberg picked up the sport of handball two years ago. (Contributed photo)

Minnesota State competed against the likes of Missouri State, Texas A&M University, Angelo State (also in Texas), Pacific (Calif.), Utah State and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

There were about 220 players overall. Clodagh Monroe represented Minnesota State in the women’s open title match, and Irishman Mark Doyle in the men’s contest. Both Mavericks became champions. 

Josh Prahl, a fellow student at Minnesota State, encouraged Skyberg to join the team in 2022. The university also offers an “introduction to handball” physical education course, which students receive full credit.

“I think it took some getting used to,” Skyberg admitted. “I was starting a new sport at an older age. I had to learn the fundamentals.”

With each win at the national tournament, Skyberg contributed toward the Mavericks winning the overall title.

During her time at PAS, Skyberg played tennis, softball and basketball.

The Arrows softball team qualified for the Minnesota State High School League state tournament all four years Carmen was on varsity — playing center field.

Skyberg was perfectly blunt when asked about similarities between handball and the other sports she has played.

“You have to play to get better,” she said. Handball, like softball and tennis, requires precise hand-eye coordination, with the need to constantly read the ball.

Practices also were organized, once per week, and the athletes participated in regimented weight training.

Skyberg, who graduated from Minnesota State with a degree in health/physical education this past December, said handball is a sport that has provided her with an adrenalin rush.

The United States Handball Association has conducted national tournaments for more than 70 years. (Contributed photo)

As for winning the national title, Skyberg said, “It was crazy. We had to get new players this year. We were lucky because we found some dedicated women who learned the sport in a short amount of time.”

Carmen spent time student teaching in Owatonna, and she’s currently working in the PAS school district as a substitute.

Since there aren’t many handball facilities in this neck of the woods, Skyberg might have to put handball on the back burner. But, she enjoyed playing something new. 

Skyberg said she played the four-wall variety of handball, although there are three-walled and one wall styles commonly referred to a wallball.

Handball facts and figures

The front wall is typically 20-feet square and sidewalls 40-feet long and 20-feet high. The back wall is 12-feet high plus a gallery for fans, the scorekeeper and referee.

Matches are played to winning 21 points, which means it’s like blackjack, usually played in a best-of-three with the third game to 11.

Concepts are very much like tennis, with both a serve and a return.

From a historical standpoint, handball has been referenced all the way back to ancient Egypt, and from 1500 BC on by Aztecs. King James I was a well-known player in the 15th Century.

The game is quite popular in Ireland and Australia.

Minnesota State is no stranger to success in athletics, having also captured the NCAA Division II men’s and women’s basketball championships this past weekend.

Pipestone’s Carmen Skyberg is shown here in the front row, lower left corner, with the Minnesota State University team from the 2022-23 season. (Contributed graphic)