Alicia Stolle: “Group phase is very important for whole club”
For German international Alicia Stolle, there have only been five months between the EHF Champions League final with FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria and the EHF European League qualification with her new club, BV Borussia 09 Dortmund. On Sunday (19 November), Stolle and Dortmund try to secure their place in the group phase as they need to overcome a one-goal deficit against H.C. Dunarea Braila in Romania after losing the first leg at home last week.
Budapest, 4 June 2023. The MVM Dome is sold out with 20,022 fans attending the EHF Champions League Women final between home crowd favourites FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria and defending champions Vipers Kristiansand.
It is the last match for Alicia Stolle after three years at the Hungarian side. Qualified for their first ever EHF FINAL4, FTC have upset Team Esbjerg (30:29) in the semi-finals the day before, but cannot repeat the magic against Vipers (24:28), despite the huge support from the stands.
“Of course, this match, this weekend, this tournament was the highlight of my career. I will never forget it, but it also feels a bit sad – we lost, and I don’t know whether I will ever make it to the EHF FINAL4 again,” Stolle says.
Last Sunday, the 27-year-old lefthander returned to the international stage with her ‘new’ club, Dortmund – also with a defeat. The German side fought a tight battle with Braila in the last qualification round prior to the group phase of the EHF European League.
Dortmund led several times in that match, but never by more than two goals. They even went into the last five minutes with a 23:21 lead before the Romanian visitors turned the tide with a late 4:1 run to take a 25:24 victory with them.
“We know that it is really hard to play in Romania, against a strong team with frenetic fans. But it is only -1 at the moment, nothing is decided,” says Stolle, who had already been aware of Braila’s strength even before the draw paired the two teams.
“Braila maybe are the strongest of all teams we could have faced in this round. Before the draw, I said: ‘I want anything but Braila’.”
The first match against Braila marked Stolle’s return to the court following a foot injury she picked up in September and that had kept her out of an Women’s EHF EURO 2024 Qualifier with the German national team.
Stolle was not the only key player at Dortmund to get injured: both left backs Dana Bleckmann and Lena Degenhardt tore cruciate ligaments at the start of the season and will be out for several more months.
“Those injuries really hit us hard. No club can fully cope with a loss of two such players at the same time. But we have to take it as it is and spread the responsibility on more shoulders,” says Stolle, who also missed a few months while playing for FTC after breaking her hand.
As a young and upcoming talent, Stolle had already played for Borussia Dortmund, but left the club at the age of 18 to join HSG Blomberg. In 2018, she moved to Thüringer HC alongside fellow German international Emily Bölk), where she had her first EHF Champions League experience while winning several domestic titles.
Again together with Bölk, she moved to FTC in 2020, played three seasons in the EHF Champions League, gained a lot of experience in a top team, but – after becoming Hungarian champions once and cup winners twice – felt the time had come to return to Germany.
“I wanted to be closer to home,” says Stolle, who was born in Ahlen, just 40 kilometres away from Dortmund.
We know that it is really hard to play in Romania, against a strong team with frenetic fans. But it is only -1 at the moment, nothing is decided. Braila maybe are the strongest of all teams we could have faced in this round. Before the draw, I said: ‘I want anything but Braila.’
After nine years away from Borussia, she recognised a 100 per cent change at her old club: “Everything is much more professional, the squad is much stronger, and thanks to this development many top players have joined our team, like Dutch goalkeeper Tess Lieder.”
Returning to her youth club, Stolle has become the new team captain right away: “I feel very honoured about this decision, it underlines the trust all the team and the coaching staff have in me.”
While Dortmund must come from behind on Sunday to make it to the group phase, both the club and Stolle know how to do it on the European stage: Dortmund qualified for the EHF Finals 2023 by defeating Neptunes de Nantes by nine goals, a week after losing the first leg of that quarter-final by eight goals.
And Stolle managed a similarly spectacular comeback with FTC: after losing the home leg of the quarter-final against Metz Handball by six goals, they won the return leg in France by seven.
“I hope that Tess can show a performance like last weekend, then we have a chance. It is very important for the players, the team, and the whole club to qualify for the group phase again. Making it to the EHF Finals last May was a milestone for this club.”
Even if Dortmund would fail to advance, one German player would still make it to the group phase: line player Meike Schmelzer plays for Braila.
“I played with Meike at Thüringer HC and in the national team,” says Stolle. “It is always great to meet former teammates and friends.”
Photos © BV Borussia 09 Dortmund