How Vipers help Norway’s next best thing grow
Norway have a longstanding history of developing young players that set international competitions alight. From pacey wings to strong line players, the Norwegian machine has stayed true to its roots as the generations have changed and new talents have been ushered into club and national teams.
The last player to be touted as a huge talent, who could contribute to Norwegian handball staying on top, is 23-year-old back Ragnhild Valle Dahl.
Born in Elnesvågen, a town of only 2,635 people near Molde, Dahl crept up the ranks and signed for Norwegian powerhouse Vipers Kristiansand in June 2019 after spending three years at Molde.
She has featured for Vipers in the past two seasons, scoring 32 goals in the DELO EHF Champions League 2019/20 and 22 goals in 2020/21, when the Norwegian side defied the odds and won the trophy.
Now, after the departure of Henny Reistad to Team Esbjerg, Dahl is beginning to take a more central role in the team. She has already scored 23 goals this season, including a 12-goal outburst against Györi Audi ETO KC in the first game of the season for the reigning champions.
“Henny [Reistad] is a great friend of mine and a very good player. I would not say I replaced her in our team. I think we are different types of players. As for the pressure, yes, it is there, but I want to solely focus on my game and give the best I can for my team,” says Dahl.
Henny [Reistad] is a great friend of mine and a very good player. I would not say I replaced her in our team. I think we are different types of players. As for the pressure, yes, it is there, but I want to solely focus on my game and give the best I can for my team.
A fast learner among stalwarts
Dahl has been earmarked as a strong back player since her years in the Norway women’s junior team, where she played 29 games and scored 80 goals. Yet she still has not broken into the ranks of the senior side, where the competition is huge.
However, as the 23-year-old back entered in her third season with Vipers, things are looking on the up, especially as Norway had seven players from their domestic champions in the team when they secured the EHF EURO 2020 title last December.
“You learn plenty both as a player and as a person from training and playing with some of the best players in the world,” says Dahl, referring to the likes of Nora Mørk, Heidi Løke and Katrine Lunde — vastly experienced and decorated players in the Vipers lineup. “Even small details when you analyse games can be put into perspective and seen different when they look at it.”
The strides made by the Vipers’ back have been clear on display, as Dahl earned plaudits from coach Ole Gustav Gjekstad for her work in defence.
In attack, her experience has taught the Norwegian back to make the correct decisions, shoot better and coordinate with wings or line players — the core of the attacking phase for Norwegian handball.
“I have been getting better and better on defence, as a central defender or as the intermediate. So, playing for Vipers has really helped me develop as a player,” says Dahl.
Winning the DELO EHF Champions League was a bonus for the Norwegian club, especially as Vipers were seen as huge underdogs coming into the DELO EHF FINAL4 in Budapest last May.
Playing only two games at home, in Kristiansand, did not help their challenge, but the fighting spirit and know-how tilted the balance for Vipers.
Now, the reigning champions have a target on their back and have already lost both their away games in the premium European competition — 35:29 against Gyor and 23:18 against Metz Handball. In their first two home games of the season, Vipers took a 34:25 win against Savehof and another 39:25 win against Kastamonu, underlining their amazing attacking potential.
There was significant turnover in the squad over the summer, with several high-profile transfers like backs Isabelle Gullden, Nerea Pena and Zsuzsanna Tomori being brought in to strengthen the core of the side.
“We need a bit of time to gel and to become better. And it is amazing that we can play with our great audience in Kristiansand once again. It really helps,” says Dahl.
Following the national team dream
For Dahl, however, this is not only a title-defence campaign, but a season that could help her establish as one of the best backs in the competition.
All eyes in Norway are on her development, as the 23-year-old back has been slowly creeping into the spotlight as a solution for the national team in the near future.
The Scandinavian side will enter the IHF Women’s World Championship in December as the reigning European champions and the bronze medalists at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, and Dahl is shortlisted among the 35 players entered on the preliminary list for the tournament.
Whether she will make the final roster, only the coming month will tell, therefore, the incentive for performing well in the next games is crucial.
“Of course, it is a dream to wear the national team shirt in an important tournament. I have been dreaming of it since I was little, so it would be a huge honour,” says Dahl.
There are still plenty of games up until the national team break in late November, chief of which is the next one, against Russian champions and last season’s fellow DELO EHF FINAL4 participants, CSKA.
The memories are priceless for Vipers, who won the semi-final against CSKA last May 33:30.
“They are a tough team; a very difficult side to play against. But we want to extend our winning streak at home,” concludes Dahl.
To do that, Vipers might just need a bit of magic from Dahl. Judging from her confidence, it should be there.