Countdown, part 4: Larvik HåndballklubbArticle
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Thanks to the comeback of superstar Gro Hammerseng, the 2011 Women’s EHF Champions League winners are hoping to go all the way again.

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Countdown, part 4: Larvik Håndballklubb

Thanks to the comeback of superstar Gro Hammerseng, the 2011 Women’s EHF Champions League winners are hoping to go all the way again.

When Larvik HK won the trophy after a thrilling final series against Spanish side Itxako in 2011, it was the biggest success ever for Norwegian club handball. But last season the former defending champions were stopped in the semi-final by eventual winner Budućnost. So Larvik are again the hunter, not the hunted in the upcoming season.

Their squad for this season is virtually the same, with Olympic champion Amanda Kurtovic the only player who left (to Danish side Viborg). In contrast, Larvik signed three new players including Danish international Kristina Bille and Norwegian former international Anja Edin.

But the biggest hopes of the club lay on the shoulders of Gro Hammerseng. Around seven month after giving birth to a son, the former world handball player of the year is back in the team.

Their minimum goal is to reach the Main Round, and Ole Gustav Gjekstad, who is coach and manager of the team, can focus on the international competition. “The Champions League is - as always - our main goal for the next season,” he said.

Team captain Tonje Larsen, who missed the Olympics as she recovered from knee surgery, is back on track now. Her expectations are high, too: “My opinion is that we have a stronger team this season than last year. The squad has more depth which gives us more options than in the past. But as always it will be wise to focus on the next game – a boring but important motto. There are some very strong teams in this season also in our group.”

Three questions to coach Ole Gustav Gjekstad:
What are your expectations for the upcoming season of the Women’s EHF Champions League?
Ole Gustav Gjekstad: We have done very well the past three seasons and we are optimistic for the future. There are some strong contenders this year in our group. I feel that we have a strong team but we will focus on getting out of the Group Phase and onwards to the Main Round. Our group will be very tough. Dinamo has a very good mix of players and it will be exciting to meet on back to back weekends. Sävehof will be considered as the easiest opponent by many, but they have showed before that they can play some attractive handball. Qualifiers FTC Rail Cargo Hungaria have a fantastic team this season with the potential to make it as one of the semi-finalists.

What does participation in the Women’s EHF Champions League mean to you and your club?
Ole Gustav Gjekstad: The Women’s EHF Champions League means a lot to us and has been our main goal for several seasons. It is as easy as that!

Which teams are your personal favourites to win the Women’s EHF Champions League season – and why?
Ole Gustav Gjekstad: On paper it has to be Oltchim and Györ. At the moment we get news about problems in Vâlcea, but I believe they will show up at full strength. With their transfers they have completed their squad this summer and should be the big favourite. Even though Györ didn't make it all the way last season, they looked very good. This team should be even better this season, too.

Larvik Håndballklubb (NOR)
Qualification for the Women’s EHF Champions League 2012/13 season: Norwegian champions
Newcomers: Kristina Bille (Krim Mercator), Anja Edin (Storhamar), Kristine Breistøl (Bækkelaget), Gro Hammerseng (comeback after pregnancy break)
Left the club: Amanda Kurtovic (Viborg HK)
Coach: Ole Gustav Gjekstad, since 2011

Women’s EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2012/13 season):
Winner: 2010/11
Semi-finalist: 2001/02, 2003/04, 2009/10, 2011/12
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:
2004/05, 2007/08
Semi-finalists: 1996/97, 2005/06

EHF Cup:

Norwegian champions: 14 (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, 11/12)
Norwegian Cup winners: 12 (95/96, 97/98, 99/00, 02/03, 03/04, 04/05, 05/06, 06/07, 08/09, 09/10, 10/11, 11/12)

Further information
Find more information about Larvik Håndballklubb HERE
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TEXT: Björn Pazen