Debutants hope for main round, despite departure of twelve top starsArticle
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Women’s EHF Champions League Countdown - 16 days to go: Astrakhanochka (RUS)

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Debutants hope for main round, despite departure of twelve top stars

Four of the 14 players from the Rio 2016 Russian Olympic gold medallist squad had been competing for Astrakhanochka - all four departed ways from the club, including the Olympic Most Valuable Player, Anna Vyakhireva to Rostov (pictured below), as well as her sister, Polina Kuznetsova (also All-star team member in Rio).

Similar to Kuznetsova, a total of seven former Astrakhan players joined Kuban Krasnodar and current Russian national team coach, Evgenii Trefilov.

In 2016, under the helm of Trefilov and Mikhail Seregin (former assistant coach and current head coach), Astrakhanochka (founded in 1993) managed to leave star-studded Rostov behind to become Russian Super Liga champions for the first time, despite the transfer of many top players.

Now, Astrakhanochka have earned their first season in the EHF Champions League, after being a part of the EHF Cup or Cup Winners’ Cup ten times before. To date, Astrakhanochka’s best result was the EHF Cup Semi-final in 2014.

Following this major transition of twelve players leaving and only four replacements, the main round is the goal in their first ever Champions League season.

As club director, Gennadiy Lebedev says: “We want to show interesting and attractive handball in the new environment; it is highly important for us to have our debut in the Champions League.”

The final remaining star is a Russian handball legend, Liudmila Postnova (three-time world champion, Olympic silver medallist, EURO silver medallist and Champions League finalist), who previously played under Trefilov in Lada and Zvezda.

“Our most important task is to remain in the competition until the main round, despite the departure of our most experienced players to other clubs,” says six-time Russian champion, Postnova; the captain of a nearly all-Russian squad.

She adds: “It will be very hard for our young team to compete with such strong clubs, such as Vardar and FTC-Rail Cargo.”

Astrakhanochka (RUS)

Qualification for the Women’s EHF Champions League 2016/17 season: Russian champions

Newcomers: Kristina Sorokina (Rostov-Don), Natalia Chigirinova (Lada Togliatti), Anastasia Vaganova (AGU-ADIF), Daria Chaplyghina (returned after pause)

Left the club: Viktoriia Zhilinskayte (Kuban Krasnodar), Iana Zhilinskaite (Kuban Krasnodar), Kristina Liscevic (Kuban Krasnodar), Valentina Goncharova (Kuban Krasnodar), Polina Kuznetsova (Kuban Krasnodar), Viktoria Kalinina (Kuban Krasnodar), Anna Vyakhireva (Rostov-Don), Karina Ezhykava (Debrecen), Irina Snopova (Lada), Kristina Tarasova (Zagnospor), Ekaterina Smirnova (Kuban Krasnodar), Evelina Anoshkina (Dinamo-Sinara Volgograd)

Coach: Mikhail Seregin (since 2013; assistant of Trefilov Evgenii last season; current head coach)

Team captain: Liudmila Postnova

Opponents in the group matches: Vardar, FTC and Leipzig in Group B

Women’s EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2016/17 season): 1

Other EC records:

Semi-final: 2013/14
Quarter-final: 2012/13, 2014/15, 2015/16

Cup Winners’ Cup
Quarter-final: 2006/07

Russian league: 1 title (2016)
Russian cup: - finalist 2016

TEXT: Björn Pazen / tm