Another title push for the reigning queens
It was a busy summer for Vipers Kristiansand. Ole Gustav Gjekstad’s side underwent a serious makeover, with several high-profile departures sweetened by some mouth-watering arrivals with the power to define the season for the reigning champions.
All in all, Vipers look once again like a strong contender, but it will be interesting to see if their transition from a team with a Norwegian core to a multi-national powerhouse can yield the same results as in the past.
- in a busy summer on the transfer market, Vipers lost six players but bolstered their squad with six new additions, with Anna Vyakhireva, Jamina Roberts and Oceane Sercien-Ugolin improving the team’s core
- the team now has players from eight different countries – Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Croatia, Russia, Spain, France and the Czech Republic
- Vipers have reached the EHF FINAL4 in 60 per cent of their participations in the competition – three out of five – with the objective this time around being another trip to Budapest
- two of their top scorers, Nora Mørk and Isabelle Gulldén, who combined for 158 goals last season, left the side, but Jamina Roberts, the fifth top scorer of the European premium competition, was added this summer
Most important question: Will their busy summer affect the team in any way?
Vipers have fought through thick and thin during the past seasons, but they still managed to write history, becoming the first-ever Norwegian team to win back-to-back titles in the EHF Champions League Women. Two seasons ago, they only played two games on their home court, but still managed to clinch their maiden trophy. In the last season, they finished second in the group phase, but went on and delivered a four-game winning streak in the prime moment of the competition to win their second gold medal in a row.
But this time around, it seems that things need to settle down. Chemistry is huge in the Champions League, and players need to know the routine, therefore it might take some time before Ole Gustav Gjekstad’s group truly clicks. Losing their top scorer in Nora Mørk would be a huge blow for any side, but Vipers outdid themselves by bringing in two-time Olympic MVP Anna Vyakhireva.
Vyakhireva had her share of injuries in the past seasons, but at her best, she is an unstoppable force and it is difficult to think of a better player to replace Mørk. Vipers also doubled down by bringing in left back Jamina Roberts, making the team’s back line look as exciting as ever. With Katrine Lunde still between the posts, the Norwegian powerhouse still look like contenders, but they might take a bit of time to gel.
Under the spotlight: Anna Vyakhireva
It seems that Vyakhireva broke through on the biggest of stages a lifetime ago, but she is only 27 years old and has plenty to offer her new team, in one of the top moves of the season. The Russian right back enters her first-ever season abroad, in a transfer that raised plenty of eyebrows. Her CV is next to none: a two-time Olympic MVP, the MVP of the EHF EURO 2018 and a perennial All-star Team contender, featuring among the best Champions League players in 2019 and 2020.
After finishing second at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games with the national team, Vyakhireva took some time off, but made her comeback this spring for her former side, Rostov-Don. The diminutive right back fills the big shoes of the previous player on this position at Vipers, Nora Mørk, and the only question is about fitness and avoiding injuries.
If that happens, Vyakhireva will surely improve her 308-goal tally in the European premium competition, with Vipers taking advantage of one of the best players in that position over the last decade.
How they rate themselves
How would a team rate themselves after two consecutive titles in the EHF Champions League Women? Probably very highly, and they are surely eyeing a hat-trick of titles, in a streak that only Györi Audi ETO KC have previously managed.
“We want to be at the top of European handball this season too. The team has been strengthened with a lot of new faces with new qualities. It’s going to be really exciting to see how we progress this season,” said Vipers’ captain, goalkeeper Katrine Lunde, who will be entering her sixth season in the European top competition with the Norwegian side.
Did you know?
A single team in history, Györ (2017, 2018 and 2019) won the trophy three times in a row. Six of the eight titles in the EHF Champions League Women since the current EHF FINAL4 format was introduced have been won by either Györ or Vipers.
What do the numbers say?
Katrine Lunde is one of four players to have won the EHF Champions League Women six times, alongside Ausra Fridrikas, Bojana Popovic and Mørk. If she wins one more trophy, she would become the record holder, as the player with the largest number of titles in the history of the competition
Newcomers and departures
Newcomers: Anna Vyakhireva (Rostov-Don), Oceane Sercien-Ugolin (Krim Mercator Ljubljana), Jamina Roberts, Sofie Börjesson (IK Sävehof), Julie Stokkendal Poulsen (Bjerringbro FH), Martine Kårigstad Andersen (Follo HK)
Departures: Nora Mørk (Team Esbjerg), Andrea Austmo Pedersen (Ikast Handbold), Evelina Eriksson (CSM Bucuresti), Zsuzsanna Tomori (FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria), Heidi Løke (Larvik HK), Isabelle Gulldén (Lugi HF).
EHF Champions League
Participations (including 2021/22 season): 6
Winners (2): 2020/21, 2021/22
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: 5 titles (2018-2022)
Norwegian cup: 5 titles (2017-2022)
*The 2019/20 season was not completed due to the Covid-19 pandemic