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By Kyra Vidas, 12/12/18
At every handball tournament, multiple Cordova jerseys can be seen. Not always by the Cordova brothers, Luis and Daniel, but by their legions of fans who admire the R48 superstar brothers. The admiration demonstrates the character and positive impact that both Luis (WPH R48 #3) and Daniel (WPH R48 #4) Cordova bring to this sport, but better yet, the handball community.
Luis Jr. was given the nickname, “Lucho,” because he shares the same name as his father. “Lucho” also reflects Luis’ playing style. Lucho translates to ‘fought” in Spanish, which is the hallmark of Luis’ game. Luis is one of the R48’s fighting warriors, alongside his brother, Daniel. Daniel was given the nickname “Danos” from his Aunt Lily, which translates to “give us.” Danos invariably gives his fans something special to watch with his sensational blend of athleticism and flair.
Luis Sr., Luis and Daniel’s father, started playing this ‘perfect game’ in 1978 at the age of 15 at Club Campestre in Juarez, Mexico. Luis and Daniel would follow their father to the courts as youngsters, but it was not until they were 13 and 11 years old, respectively, that handball became a serious passion. Within the next decade of learning and practicing under the guidance of their father and many others, the Cordova brothers became a force on the pro tour. “I feel very happy. Seeing my children improve every day in the rankings and be part of the WPH R48 pro tour is very exciting, I wait every season to see how they will do, and seeing that Luis and Daniel’s 13-year old brother Andres continues with the same passion as his brothers, makes me happier,” boasted proud father Luis Sr.
Photo by K. Thode & USHA
Luis Jr. and Daniel started their junior handball careers after seeing a pro stop for the first time in Juarez, Mexico in 2001. Growing up in a border town was “pretty unique,” according to Daniel. Having their mother move to El Paso while their father stayed in Juarez provided Luis and Daniel lived the best of both worlds. “Being able to go eat authentic tacos for lunch to Whataburger for dinner was a treat,” stated Danos.
“Growing up and playing in Juarez was one of the best things that has ever happened to me,” stated Lucho. “The community in Juarez to me is one of the best handball communities in the world. We are all very close friends and it’s just a great place to grow up and play.”
Seeing the professionals play for the first time in their hometown sparked Luis and Daniel’s attitude to dedicate more time to their games, as Lucho and Danos, their uncles, and their friends started to play more and more handball. “Every time they found a wall, they would play,” recalled Luis Sr.
In 2003, Luis Jr. and Daniel traveled to compete at their first tournament in Flagstaff, Arizona. Following that experience, handball became more serious. Phoenix’s Kenn Danembaum was one of the first outside of Juarez to watch Lucho and Danos play and began supporting the brothers to travel to all the major junior tournaments.
Although their mother never played the sport, she played a huge role in their early life of handball. “She did not love the idea of us missing school for tournaments or not doing homework because we went to play handball, but she always supported us and was always back home waiting on the tournament updates,” remembered Lucho.
Handball has played a huge role within the Cordova family for many generations. Both grandfathers of Luis Jr. and Daniel played at some point, and their parents met at Club Campestre in Juarez. Lucho met his wife, Arelhi, through his brother-in-laws, who both play handball. “Pretty much everybody on both sides of our families plays or has played before,” stated Lucho. “Because of this, my mom and the rest of my family has always been so supportive. Everyone can appreciate our success. Our family is our number one fans,” added Daniel.
The Cordova passion for the game has spread across the handball community. Juarez’s Top 25 R48 pro and current collegiate national champion Juan ‘Leo’ Canales, Jr., revealed, “Luis and Danos inspired me to take handball more seriously. Seeing the success they were having on the tour really motivated the whole Juarez/El Paso handball community and raised the level of play for everyone. Danos was the person that convinced me to check out Lake Forest College and helped me develop my game in my first couple of years of school.”
For the past 15 years, Luis and Daniel have traveled the country working on their games and creating memories.
One of the brother’s fondest memories was upsetting two of the game’s greatest champions, David Chapman and Sean Lenning, at the WPH 3WallBall Championships in 2011. “Chapman and Lenning were the favorites to win the tournament, so it was nice to get that win, even though we didn’t take the title,” stated Lucho.
Another historic Cordova moment came at the 2018 WPH R48 8 Stop #1, featuring Luis and Daniel in the finals. “Aside from it being a sign that our training is paying off, it was a special experience to make a little bit of history,” stated Danos. “I don’t think there have been any other brothers who have met in a pro stop final. We were both sore for the next two weeks after that match; it was pretty funny.”
R48 8 2018 Atlanta recap HERE
Lucho and Danos have also enjoyed many memorable moments off the court, as the brothers share common interests and a unique bond. In their spare time, the Cordova brothers can be found together at an estate sale looking to collect antiques and battling one another on the ping pong table. “Being on the pro tour with Luis is special,” stated Danos. “Pro stops used to be the only time I would see him, other than Christmas. Now we see each other much more, but it doesn’t get old. I am glad we share the same hobby, but handball isn’t the only hobby we share.”
Lucho agrees. “It’s great to be on tour with Daniel; I think handball made us a lot closer. It’s fun to share all the moments I get to share with him that probably would have never happened if either of us weren’t on the tour.”
Lucho (28) and Danos (26) have made huge improvements in their games over the last few years due to endless hours in the gym and on the courts. “It means a lot to be a pro at something you love to do,” stated Lucho.
Danos was motivated and mentored by not just his dad and brother, but his college handball coach as well. “There has always been a person that stands out at different stages of my life. My dad and my brother have always been there to push me, but when they were far away, some other people filled the empty space. My college handball coach, Mike Dau, was one of those people. He never tried to change my game, but he taught me the work ethic to reach a new level and he also provided the tools and connections to follow through with how hard I was willing to work.”
In a life changing decision, both Luis Jr. and Daniel moved to Atlanta, GA in the fall of 2016 for handball and their careers. Lance Wachholz, one of the R48’s greatest ambassadors, invited the brothers to work for his company in Atlanta and to continue competing at a high level of handball. “Daniel and Luis have been working at e4 Design – A Freeman Co. for going on two years,” stated e4 Design boss Lance Wachholz. “The integrity and work ethic they display on the handball courts, carries over to the work place. They both have an uncanny ability to make everyone welcome on the handball court. We consider them family!”
“Atlanta really took my game to a new level because of all the support we get here,” stated Lucho. “Lance treated us like we were his own kids and he has done a lot. And I mean a lot for my game, more mentally than anything else. He always pushes me and gives me crap if I am losing. He knows what types of things to say to motivate me.”
The transition to Atlanta came easily for Lucho and Danos, with the brothers arriving within one month of on another. “Now we get to train together and work together,” declared Danos. “Having the opportunity to spar with someone at your level is very very important, especially when I get $5 every time I beat him. It is a must for us to bet when we play. It’s hard to get into that intensity when we don’t.”
One of the Cordova brother’s direct bosses at work is Atlanta handball player Lee Castleberry. Castleberry deals with Luis and Daniel arriving late from lunch every day to squeeze in a workout.
Castleberry is one of the Cordova e4 supervisors and happily accepts the brothers leaving for tournaments. “When I come back and can’t even move and get to work late, instead of Lee being mad at me, he greets me with a smile and always is eager to know how the tournament went,” stated Lucho.” I feel my game has improved because everybody around me [in Atlanta] really supports my game, so it motivates me to train more and take better care of myself.”
Lucho is a husband and a father to his two adorable young sons, Luis Mateo and Luan. “I’m most proud of my family, by far,” boasted Lucho. “My wife is really the one that puts up with more than anybody. From healthy cooking, staying home with the kids, giving pointers about my game, and packing my suitcase to perfection, my wife does it all. She also tells me to go train, even though she doesn’t love that I’m at the courts so much.”
Cheering for their father and Uncle Danos from home, Lucho’s boys are always calling to hear about their dad and uncle’s games, how the tournament is going, and are the first ones to greet them at the airport. “I’m super proud of my boys,” stated proud dad Lucho. “Pretty much everything I do is for them. I want to be the best, so that they have a good example and they can be the best at whatever they choose to do when they grow up.”
When Lucho and Danos first moved to Atlanta, they were fortunate to live together and have Danos as the loving uncle to Luis Mateo and Luan. Outside of being a supportive and loving uncle and watching many of his nephew Luis Mateo’s baseball games, Daniel enjoys time camping in his Jeep Wrangler on different trails throughout the state of Georgia. Although Daniel can always call Lucho’s place home when needed, Danos chooses to explore and experience new adventures while he can.
While Lucho and Danos are currently campaigning in the top four on the R48 pro tour, their 13-year-old brother Andres is following in his brothers’ footsteps and participating in tournaments across the nation. “I know he loves to watch us and emulate us; it looks like he is going to be a great player,” declared Lucho.
Junior prodigy Andres has learned from his big brothers, as well as their father and Juarez junior coach, Richy “Drft” Fernandez. “It’s nice to see him enjoy the game as much as we do. It will be fun to all play against each other when he gets real good,” added Danos.
Not only have these two brothers dedicated time and effort to their game over the years, they have gone above and beyond to support younger players. Lucho and his family host 20 or more college students and other players in their Atlanta home several times each year, with endless hospitality for their handball-crazed guests. “I am enjoying this pro experience. I like traveling to new cities, hosting players, and getting to know players from all different backgrounds,” proclaimed Daniel.
The Cordovas are widely regarded as role models on and off the court. “The Cordovas are friendly, funny, and inclusive,” expressed R48 top 15 pro Max Langmack. “They are respectful and fair, regardless if they are talking to a novice, veteran, or pro of the game. It is this selflessness and concern for the younger generation of players that has earned them the loyalty of these players. They are now found in the stands, proudly wearing Cordova jerseys, emphatically cheering for them.”
“It is awesome to be able to make someone’s day by giving them one of my jerseys,” barked Danos. “I wish I could give one to everyone who has asked. It’s a unique feeling to have fans. I definitely feel appreciative of those who look up to us and support us.”
Although Luis Jr and Daniel grew up together, learning similar fundamentals and techniques, both built their own style of play. As Langmack stated, “One need only watch Lucho’s match versus Paul Brady at the 2018 Worlds, the way he refused to move from the front court, fighting off each shot with open hand fly kills to run Paul around the court until the match ended.”
Daniel plays a different style; his intellect guides his strategy. “With a subtle and disguised flick of the wrist, he can make the ball dance like a puppet master, as though invisible strings were attached to his gloves. He keeps his opponents off balance and confused, from the time he serves until the finishing shot, be it a touch kill shot in the corners or a blistering pass with a natural hop that cuts into his opponents and jams him from a return that falls short of the front wall,” Langmack explained.
Opponents know when they enter the court with the Cordovas to expect a battle. “They’re a lot of fun to hang out with and fun to watch ball. It is a real drag playing either one of them, but at least they’re fair”, said WPH R48 #1, Sean Lenning.
Even when in disagreement with the referee, the Cordovas debate the calls with passion, but never malice. “It is for these reasons that they are two of the brightest stars in this current era of our game, and should continue to be for the foreseeable future”, said Langmack.
The Cordova passion allows each to play every game like it’s their last. “I want to see what my potential is and competing against the top pros is the best way to do so,” expressed Daniel.
Despite Lucho and Danos’ different styles of play, both Lucho and Danos share the same love for the game on and off the court.
With their positive energy and open mindset, Luis and Daniel continue to make each other better. Moving to Atlanta has allowed them to see and play each other so frequently that it keeps their matches close, while also helping their doubles teamwork. “In doubles, we know one another’s games so well that I know what shots he likes, so I can leave those for him and the same goes for the shots that I like,” stated Danos. “I am also always confident I know where he is on the court. I never have to look to see if he’s in the right position. It’s just easy to play with him. Effortless would be a good word.”
The Cordova’s doubles acumen earned the brothers the nickname, “The Flying Cordovas” for their relentless pursuit and reckless abandon for their bodies in the quest to retrieve every shot, a trait that is also steadfast in their singles play.
Lucho and Danos are intensely competitive on and off the court. Rapid Spanish phrases can constantly be heard between the two at tournaments, always dissecting each other’s games and taking their friendship to a deeper level. It is the purest form of brotherhood. “There are high stakes on the line when the two face each other, yet at the end of it all, one cannot find two people more mindful of the struggles and the successes of the other. They leave nothing but respect in the eyes of those who come across their paths,” stated Langmack.
The story of the Cordovas has yet to be finished and there are undoubtedly many more chapters to be written, but the legacy the Cordova brothers have already written will likely never well be replicated.
Pictures courtesy of Luis Cordova, Sr., Daniel Cordova, Kyra Vidas, and the WPH.
Kyra “K3” Vidas
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