New-look Vipers not lacking in venom
Vipers battled through one of the most unusual European campaigns last season to claim their first DELO EHF Champions League title in impressive fashion.
Following their surprise triumph, there has been a raft of changes in the squad, with Norwegian national team players making their first move abroad and a collection of experienced talent coming the other way
- Vipers stormed to their first EHF Champions League title in May, beating Brest 34:28 in the final
- top scorer and MVP of the event in Budapest, Henny Reistad, is the biggest profile to leave the club over the summer, alongside the likes of Malin Aune and Emilie Hegh Arntzen
- on 7 September, Zsuzsanna Tomori was the latest signing for the reigning champions, adding further depth and creative quality to the Vipers back court
- other big summer signings include Bella Gulldén, Ana Debelić and Nerea Pena
Most important question is: How different will Vipers look this season?
There has been a huge turnover in back court players this summer for the Norwegian champions, with the flavour of the team shifting from a youthful Norwegian core to an experienced international squad.
With Henny Reistad leaving for Esbjerg on the back of a world-class performance at the DELO EHF FINAL4, it is difficult to imagine anyone replacing her like for like, but this is something Vipers coach Ole Gjekstad is well aware of.
One of the key players of last year’s success is still at the club, however, the one and only Nora Mørk, who is excited by the prospect of playing alongside the new arrivals.
“I think Gulldén and Pena can be a good fit, especially for me, who likes to be close to the goal and play with the pivot, they do the same, so although it will be different, I think it can be really good. I think we’re all excited.”
Under the spotlight: Nerea Pena
Nerea Pena’s long spell in Hungary came to a sudden end early last season with a move to Team Esbjerg, bringing the Spanish international back into Europe’s top flight.
This new-look Vipers back court will have plenty of different weapons at their disposal and a wealth of experience to play with but Pena stands out as a player who can offer a combination of speedy playmaking and incisive shooting when needed.
Following years of frustration with FTC as they regularly missed out on the DELO EHF FINAL4, Pena has a golden opportunity to star for a team at the pinnacle of the sport and it will be fascinating to see if she can manage it.
How they rate themselves
Vipers will suddenly find themselves as the targeted team in the competition, despite the new look of the squad.
Despite the departure of a number of their regulars to foreign clubs, Nora Mørk believes Kristiansand’s ambitions will be by no means lessened.
“I think the club has been doing really well the last couple of years. It has been one of the most stable clubs for the last couple of years and now it shows. To be able to get players like Bella and Nerea shows a lot of character and that the club still wants to be among the top in Europe.
“For me, it was really important to get top players here, especially as we are losing Henny, who is in the best shape of her life and is still very young, so it’s a big loss to lose her and the other players.”
Did you know?
Coach Ole Gjekstad’s arrival at the club in 2018 was met with some surprise at the time as the former Larvik coach stepped away from the sport in 2015 to work in insurance.
“When I left Larvik in 2015, I had no intention of coaching at this level again, I thought that was it. But things changed after three years working in insurance and with the opportunity to work on this project with Kristiansand.
“A good project was the attraction for me and the club has done a great job in growing, improving and developing a squad.
“We have a really good setup and a strong squad, which makes for high-quality training and competition within the team, an important aspect for us in our circumstances,” Gjekstad told eurohandball.com ahead of last season’s DELO EHF FINAL4.
What the numbers say
With no domestic league action for the majority of the season and two home matches out of 17 in the Champions League, Kristiansand’s journey to the title was truly unique.
It is hard to imagine this coming season will be more difficult from that point of view but the challenge of defending their title will be by no means simple.
After they reached their first EHF FINAL4 in 2019, their following campaign fell short of the mark with elimination in the main round, a destiny this current crop of players will do everything to avoid.
Arrivals and departures
Arrivals: Isabelle Gulldén (Brest Bretagne Handball), Tuva Ulsaker Høve (Aker Topphåndball), Nerea Pena (Team Esbjerg), Ana Debelić (HC Astrakhanochka), Markéta Jeřábková (Thüringer HC), Zsuzsanna Tomori (Siófok KC)
Departures: Linn Jørum Sulland (retires), June Andenæs (retires), Emilie Hegh Arntzen (CSM București), Malin Aune (CSM București), Henny Reistad (Team Esbjerg), Jeanett Kristiansen (Storhamar HE), Carolina Morais
DELO EHF Champions League
Participations (including 2021/22 season): 5
Winners (1): 2020/21
Bronze (1): 2018/19
Main round (1): 2019/20
Group matches (1): 2017/18
Cup Winners‘ Cup: Quarter-finals: 2015/16
EHF Cup: Final: 2017/18; Semi-final: 2003/04; Last 16: 2004/05
Norwegian league: 4 titles (2018-2021)
Norwegian cup: 4 titles (2017-2020)