Time for Larvik to go one step furtherArticle
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COUNTDOWN: Women’s EHF Champions League countdown, part 5: Larvik HK (NOR)

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Time for Larvik to go one step further

Larvik HK are one of the most consistent teams in the Women’s EHF Champions League. They have been to at least the semi-finals four times in a row since the 2009/10 season.

Although the Norwegian record champions and cup winners have only added home grown players to the squad this summer, they have kept all key players and are aiming for another long run in the competition.

Three players have left the squad of coach Ole Gustav Gjekstad: Sara Breistøl, Olga Medvedeva and Pernille Wibe, but the ambitions are high at the 2011 winners and last season’s beaten finalists.

The all-Scandinavian squad, besides Danes Rantala and Bille only Norwegians play for Larvik, include some of the most experienced players of the whole competition like goalkeeping duo Rantala/Leganger, former world handball players Linn-Kristin Riegelhuth-Koren and Gro Hammerseng-Edin as well as Karoline Dyhre Breivang and Tonje Larsen.

Larvik are seeded on top of the group, which includes new powerhouse Vardar Skopje, Croatian champions Podravka Vegeta and Spanish debutants Bera Bera.

For Ole Gustav Gjekstad, who also acts as the sports manager, the goals are set high for the upcoming season, in which Larvik also want to defend all their domestic titles.

“After reaching the Champions League finals last year our ambitions will be as high this season. However, our focus will not be stretched further than the next step ahead of us, starting with the group matches and advancing from that stage.

“That has proven to be a successful strategy for us. I do believe that Vardar will be our hardest rival in the group. They have top-notch players all around. Nevertheless, we take all our opponents very seriously and both Podravka and Bera Bera can cause upsets in this group,” admits Gjekstad.

One of Larvik's most influential players, Gro Hammerseng-Edin, shares the high hopes, but still is humble.

“It was a though blow to lose the finals in May, but it proves that we have a very strong team, which has even more strings to play on this season.

“We have some strong newcomers and I have to say that Nora Mørk’s comeback has been sensational so far. We have also kept all key players from the last season. Our ambitions and expectations are still very high,” says the confident 33-year-old.

Three questions to coach Ole Gustav Gjekstad:

What are your expectations for the upcoming season of the Women’s EHF Champions League – concerning your objectives and your group opponents?

Ole Gustav Gjekstad: Our ambitions are very high. Our squad looks even stronger than last season and our results was not too bad in 2012/13. However, you have to be very focused and have an injury free team if you want to go all the way in this competition. Every year there are some upsets during the group matches.

What does the participation in the Women’s EHF Champions League mean to you and your club?

Ole Gustav Gjekstad: It means almost everything. At home we are in a situation where not many teams can compete with us. We have won almost every title in Norway the last ten years. The international matches have become more and more important as the years go by.

Playing every year in the Champions League makes it possible to keep a strong squad of players. I do believe that this means a lot to our national team as well. Norwegian players need to compete on the highest level as often as possible with their clubs. We can offer this to our players.

What teams are your personal favourites to win the Women’s EHF Champions League season – and why?

Ole Gustav Gjekstad: I do believe that our nemesis from last season - Györ - will be one of the strongest contenders. They have lost a key player in Andrea Lekic to another strong team, Vardar. The signing of Katarina Bulatovic should make up for this.

I also have great respect for their Hungarian rivals FTC. Their performances last season were very strong, bearing in mind that they lost many players to injuries as the season went on. Krim and Buducnost both look stronger on paper now. It will be a great season with lots of exiting matches across Europe.

Larvik (NOR)

Coach: Ole Gustav Gjekstad, since 2011
Newcomers (including former club): Lise Løke (Storhamar), Alma Hasanic (Glassverket), Jeanett Egebakken Kristiansen (Glassverket), Frida Bjaaland (Gulset), Vilde Ingeborg Johansen (junior team) and Sofie Heide Lund (junior team).
Left the club (including new club): Sara Breistøl (retired), Olga Medvedeva (no new club), Mie Sophie Sando (SønderjyskE), and Pernille Wibe (Issy Paris)

Qualification for the 2013/2014 EHF Women’s Champions League season: Norwegian champions

EHF Women’s Champions League records:
Participations (including 2013/2014 season):  15
Winner: 2010/11
Finallist: 2012/13
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:
Winner 2004/05, 2007/08
Semi-finalist 1996/97, 2005/06

EHF Cup:
Finalist 2005/06

Norwegian champion: 1994, 1997, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013
Norwegian Cup winner: 1996, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor