Gjekstad: “It’s time to set new targets”
Last season, Vipers Kristiansand pulled off a surprise and won the DELO EHF Champions League, but their triumph is already history and now coach Ole Gustav Gjekstad prefers to focus on the future.
The Norwegian team will open the new season in the continental top flight on Saturday 11 September with a mouth-watering away clash against the Hungarian powerhouse Györi Audi ETO KC — and the 53-year-old is looking forward for it.
“I expect a tough match, given that after the Olympics, both sides haven’t had much time to prepare. But I’m curious to see where we are now. Our team has some new players, but it’s hard to say how we will perform,” Gjekstad tells ehfcl.com.
Although both Vipers and Györ reached the DELO FINAL4 last season, they did not play against each other in Budapest. While the Hungarian side lost against Brest Bretagne Handball in the semi-final, the team from Kristiansand defeated CSKA in the same stage and went on to beat Brest in the final.
Reigning champions are usually seen as favourites and Gjekstad wants to be successful in the new season, although he is cautious with his expectations.
“Of course we hope to be competitive. Our primary goal is to progress to the main round, and then we’ll see. I think there are five or six teams that can win the trophy, and hopefully Vipers will be among them,” he says.
At the same time, the coach says that he does not feel any more pressure than before: “It was a relief to win the Champions League. It was our long-term goal, and we have reached it. Definitely we’d like to repeat it, but there are teams who have a better chance — especially Györ, they have a very good team. And CSKA can also fight for the title.”
For Gjekstad, leading Vipers to the triumph in Europe’s premier club competition was obviously a big achievement, but the coach does not look back to the past – at least not too often.
“The world is moving forward. The trophy is standing in our office so I see it from time to time, but for me that triumph happened long ago. Now it’s time to set new targets,” he says.
“I’ve learned to swear in English”
Over the summer, Vipers’ roster underwent some changes. Norwegian internationals Henny Reistad, Malin Aune and Emilie Hegh Arntzen have moved abroad, while experienced foreign players Nerea Pena, Isabelle Gullden, Marketa Jerabkova, Ana Debelic and Zsuzsanna Tomori have joined the team.
“Our style will change a bit, because we signed a few players whom I call playmakers. But I don’t know yet how our game will look. We haven’t gone that far in this process. We need some more weeks for tuning,” says Gjekstad, who is confident that his team still has a strong squad.
“Of course, I’d be happy to have kept the Norwegian players who left, but it’s also fine to make some changes. Now our squad is more international, and I'm happy that these foreign players agreed to move to Vipers.”
The coach did not have a specific goal to give some more international vibe to Vipers, yet it did happen. Now the working language has changed from Norwegian to English.
“I’ve even learned to swear in English, and it’s fun,” he says with a smile. “If you find Norwegian players, you sign them, but now we signed girls from Spain, Croatia, Sweden…They are not only experienced players but also nice people who have already settled in.”
Renowned Norwegian players like Kathrine Lunde, Nora Mørk and Heidi Loke have stayed at Vipers and are expected to play important roles again.
However, Løke will not travel to Hungary this week, as she is suffering from a calf injury. Right back Silje Waade and two left wings, Karoline Olsen and Vilde Johansen, are also sidelined.
Mix of youth and experience
Tomori became the latest addition to the Vipers’ squad on Tuesday. The 34-year-old Hungarian, who played at Siófok KC last season, is expected make the Norwegian team even stronger.
“I hope that she will improve our defence. Zsuzsanna has played for great clubs and proved for many years that she is a great defender,” says Gjekstad.
With Tomori, Vipers’ roster has nine players who have already turned 30, but Gjekstad is not worried about age. “It doesn’t matter if a player is 17 or 37, as long as she is good. We need a good mix of youth and experience, and we have it.”
With no domestic action for much of the last season and most DELO EHF Champions League played outside Norway, Vipers have been missing playing at home in front of their fans. But in the new season, the situation should change for the better.
“We hope to play half of our Champions League games in Norway. It looks good now, as 1,000 spectators are allowed at our matches, and probably this number will be increased,” concludes Gjekstad.