Kozhokar: “Every handballer dreams of playing at such a level”Article
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FEATURE: During her debut season, left wing Kristina Kozhokar has become an important player for Rostov-Don. She hopes to cap the year with a qualification for her first DELO WOMEN’S EHF FINAL4
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Kozhokar: “Every handballer dreams of playing at such a level”

Following a 29:26 away win against FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria in the first-leg Women’s EHF Champions League Quarter-final, Rostov-Don have a good chance to reach DELO WOMEN’S EHF FINAL4 for the second straight season.

25-year-old left wing Kristina Kozhokar is delighted with the victory in Hungary and hopes to finish the job at home. “We fought for each other well, one for all and all for one, and it helped us to win. We should not relax in the second leg, but I think it will be easier at home with our crowd behind us,” she tells ehfcl.com.

For Kozhokar, who joined Rostov from Astrakhanochka last October, four goals scored at FTC is the best personal result in the current competition. Although happy with her impact, she refuses to pay special attention to this fact: “I can’t say if I feel like one of the team leaders now. I just think I’ll have some even better games in the future.”

Surprising October transfer

Kozhokar’s move to Rostov during the season was quite a surprise for everyone, including the player herself. “There were some talks about a possible transfer next summer, but I didn’t expect it to happen so fast. It was very spontaneous. Everything was decided in one or two days. Even the girls at Rostov were amazed to see me in their dressing room,” she says.

The left wing was happy to take the opportunity: “I didn’t really hesitate, although it was hard to leave Astrakhanochka in the middle of the season. But my former teammates fully supported me, they told me to jump at the chance. And indeed, it’s a big step forward in my career. Rostov are a top team, and every handballer dreams of playing at such a level.”

Her new teammates, head coach Ambros Martin and the Rostov fans embraced Kozhokar. “After half a year here, it already feels like home. In the first few weeks I was quite nervous, but not any longer,” she says. “The team are very united, the girls are very supportive, and Martin is a great coach. I like his professional approach. He seems to think about handball 24 hours a day and gives us loads of information about every rival. His trainings are very interesting, and two hours pass very quickly.” 

The language barrier between the players and Spanish coach is not a big issue.  “Martin speaks English, just like many girls in the team. My English is not very good, or maybe I’m too shy to speak it, but I understand the coach quite well, and we actually have an interpreter who can help,” says Kozhokar.

Setting the highest goals

Kozhokar had already played in the top continental competition with Astrakhanochka, in the 2016/17 season. With two points claimed in the group matches, the Russian team managed to squeeze through to the main round. That experience was quite different from the current one in Rostov: 

“Here, we have the highest goals. We want to go as far as possible. At Astrakhanochka, we didn’t have any goals at all. The team was very young, I was among the oldest players at the age of 23. I think everyone was shocked when we finished ahead of Leipzig on head-to-head results and progressed to the main round,” says Kozhokar. 

She was born in Togliatti, but Kozhokar never played for the local team, Lada, at a senior level. “I learned handball at Lada’s academy, but moved to Zvezda Zvenigorod at the age of 16. It was the coach Viktor Vyakhirev – Anna Vyakhireva’s father – who actually invited me there. Later on, I moved from Zvenigorod to Astrakhanochka.”

Now at Rostov, the 25-year-old is full of ambitions: “I want to win as many big titles as possible. I think every athlete should set the highest goals. I want to win the Champions League, the Olympics and to leave a mark in history.”

TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / cg