The hunted, not the huntersArticle
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EHF Women’s Champions League countdown, part 1: Larvik HK (NOR)

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The hunted, not the hunters

They were standing in the shower of confetti in Pamplona and enjoyed every second of this triumph:

In May 2011 the big dream of Larvik HK and the whole Norwegian handball became true, when the south Norwegian girls had won the EHF Champions League trophy after the finals against Itxako (Spain) as the first ever team from their country.

Role has changed

But with the start of the new season, the Norwegian champions for the first time start as the hunted, not the hunters.

And after becoming Norwegian champions for the seventh time straight and also winning the EHF Women’s Champions League, a lot of things have changed at Larvik HK, who had won the Cup Winners’ Cup twice before.

New head coach

Firstly, LHK started their season preparation with a new coach. After Karl Erik Böhn had been dismissed in January, his assistant Tor Odvar Moen took over and accomplished the mission in Pamplona.

For this season Moen remains in the coaching team, but new head coach is their former sportive director Ole Gustav Gjekstad, who had coached Larvik before from 1998 until 2005.

Gjekstad’s objectives are the same as in the coaching periods of Böhn and Moen before: to remain number one in Norway, continuing the outstanding record of being unbeaten at home in league matches since 14 March 1999, to support the national team on the way to their next titles and to defend the title in the EHF Women’s Champions League.

Top scorer left the club

But not only the coach has changed, but the squad too: Last season’s EHF Champions League top scorer Heidi Löke transferred to Györ (HUN), her husband and former coach Böhn has become new national team coach in Hungary.

Löke is the second Norwegian after goalkeeper Katrine Lunde-Haraldsen who plays for one of Larvik’s biggest competitors in the battle to defend the title.

Replacement in mentor role

Isabel Blanco, Norwegian international and arriving from Midtjylland, will replace Löke on the pivot position, and aside the experienced Blanco shall function as "teacher" for talented new pivot Mia Sophie Sando (17), coming from the Larvik youth program.

But Löke is not the only of last season’s top players, who Gjekstad will miss in this season: Both Olga Medvedeva and Gro Hammerseng will not play, as they both are pregnant.

"Maybe we will have to look at the international market, as our back court axis is weakened by those happy circumstances," Gjekstad said and added:

"Still we have a very strong team, and we will attack the possibility to hold the trophy of the EHF Women’s Champions League once again. But we have to consider those changes in our team, with new line players and two players pregnant."

Nyberg returns

Good news for the new coach: After almost one year with hardly any handball due to several injuries, Olympics, World and European champion Katja Nyberg has returned to the team.

Many Norwegian national team players

Nyberg is one of a dozen Norwegian internationals in the team, like Breivang, Riegelhuth, Larsen, Johansen or young talents like Linn Sulland, Nora Mörk or Amanda Kurtovic.

Even without Hammerseng and Löke, Larvik still represent Norwegian world class.

And LHK can count on the most experienced goalkeeper couple in the whole EHF Champions League: Cecile Leganger (36) and Danish three times Olympic champion Lene Rantala (43), who has been playing in Larvik since 1997 and just extended her contract until 2014, when she will be 46.

Team captain respectful

Despite the strength of their squad, team captain Tonje Larsen looks on the Group Phase with respect: "We are in a tough group, and our first objective is to qualify for the Main Round.

Krim and Podravka are experienced clubs, with long traditions in the EHF Champions League."

Three questions to coach Ole Gustav Gjekstad What are your expectations for the upcoming season of the EHF Women’s Champions League - concerning your objectives and your group opponents?

Ole Gustav Gjekstad: We still don’t know the last opponents in our group, but in my opinion Viborg is the obvious team to qualify.

So it looks as if we in addition to Podravka would face two multiple EHF Champions League winners in Krim and Viborg.

The right thing to do will be to focus on the Group Stage with 100 percent, as we know that it requires our full efforts to proceed from this strong group. What does the participation in the EHF Women’s Champions League mean to you and your club?

Ole Gustav Gjekstad: The participation in the EHF Women’s Champions League means great challenges and possibilities for our sports crew, but also a lot of demands and hard work for our technical and marketing crew. What teams are your personal favourites for winning the title this season – and why?

Ole Gustav Gjekstad: I think that Vâlcea, Györ and Viborg are strong candidates for the semi-finals. Hopefully Larvik will be there as well.

The winner could be among those four teams, but there are at least three or four other teams which also could win the title.

Last season Itxako showed us that a lot of experience in the EHF Champions League not always is necessary.

Club facts – Larvik HK (NOR)

Newcomers: Isabel Blanco (FC Midtjylland), Pernille Wibe (Byåsen), Mie Sando (Runar)
Left the club: Heidi Löke (ETO AUDI Györ)
Coach: Ole Gustav Gjekstad, since 2011

Qualification for the 2011/2012 EHF Women’s Champions League season: Norwegian champions

EHF Women’s Champions League records:
Participations (including 2011/2012 season): 13
Winner: 2010/11
Semi-finalist: 2001/02, 2003/04, 2009/10
Quarter-finals: 2000/01, 2002/03, 2006/07
Group Phase/Champions League: 1994/95, 1997/98, 2005/06, 2007/08, 2008/09

Other EC records:
Cup Winners Cup Winner: 2004/05, 2007/08, Semi-finalist: 1996/97, 2005/06
EHF Cup Finalist: 2005/06

Norwegian champion: 13 (93/94, 96/97, 99/00, 00/01, 01/02, 02/03, 04/05, 05/06, 06/07, 07/08, 08/09, 09/10, 10/11)
Norwegian Cup winner: 11 (95/96, 97/98, 99/00, 02/03, 03/04, 04/05, 05/06, 06/07, 08/09, 09/10, 10/11)

Further information

Find more information on Larvik HK HERE.

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TEXT: Björn Pazen