Kurtovic and Thomsen add hope to Kastamonu’s dreams
Turkey’s most ambitious club appears to be more motivated than ever this season, signalled by the arrival of Helle Thomsen as head coach.
Since bursting onto the European scene in the 2015/16 season, when they reached the Challenge Cup final, Kastamonu have been serious contenders in the EHF Cup, making it to the semi-finals in 2018 and the quarter-finals last season.
There is practically a 50:50 split of Turkish and international players in this season’s squad, with Serpil Iskenderoglu, Nina Zulic, Alena Ikhneva and brand new signings Amanda Kurtovic and Julia Eriksson expected to be leading lights in this campaign.
Thomsen’s troupe have already overcome one stern test this season, beating Hungarian side DVSC 31:30 in a one-legged qualification round to book their spot in the group phase.
- decorated Danish coach Helle Thomsen took charge over the summer
- reached the EHF Cup semi-finals in 2018; played their first European season in 2002/03
- club has changed their approach to player recruitment since then, bringing in more Turkish players
- last season’s top scorer Asli Iskit left for Thüringer HC
The burning question: Can the home-grown players deliver?
It was not too long ago, 2018 in fact, when Kastamonu were putting Turkish club handball on the map with qualification for the EHF Cup semi-final. But they were doing it with minimal Turkish involvement – only four Turkish players were in the squad and of them, just Serpil İskenderoğlu had a leading role.
An early exit from Europe the following season sparked a change in that approach and by 2019/20, Turkish players came to the fore, with Asli Iskit (68 goals) and Yeliz Özel (39 goals) driving Kastamonu to the EHF Cup quarter-finals.
Both have since moved on to other clubs, so it remains to be seen which players will emerge for Helle Thomsen’s team this season.
Star signing: Amanda Kurtovic
Kastamonu hit headlines around the handball world right before the group phase by announcing the signing of Amanda Kurtovic on loan from Györ. In November, the Norwegian international said she would be taking a break and going out on loan in 2021, though few expected this move.
The talented right back has had a mixed time on court since returning from her knee injury and has shown glimpses of her class this season. If Kastamonu can help her settle in quickly, they will have added a major weapon in attack.
High-profile coach: Helle Thomsen
It is a removal from what we usually provide in this section but Kastamonu’s highest individual profile is arguably the coach. Helle Thomsen has amassed quite the CV to date.
The Dane led Midtjylland to the very first Women’s EHF FINAL4 in 2014 before winning EHF EURO bronze with Sweden later that year. Thomsen went on to coach the Netherlands to EHF EURO silver and bronze as well as a World Championship bronze.
Her focus has switched to club handball for the time being, coaching Norwegian side Molde from 2018 until early in 2020, when she moved to Turkey.
The evergreen star: Serpil Iskenderoglu
Undoubtedly one of the best players to emerge from Turkey, Serpil Iskenderoglu is still a leader for Kastamonu at the age of 38. The centre back has played at home for the vast majority of her career, with just one season abroad, in 2006/07 with German club Nürnberg, against whom she scored 15 goals in the Challenge Cup quarter-final in 2003/04.
Just one of four Turkish players in the EHF Cup campaign in 2017/18, Iskenderoglu led the team with 55 goals en route to the semi-finals and is likely to play an equally important role this season.
A night to remember
In 2018, Kastamonu wrote history with their run to the EHF Cup semi-finals. Facing Romanian side SCM Craiova, they were engaged in 120 thrilling minutes of handball that went right down to the wire.
A 23:22 loss at home in the first leg left Kastamonu with a tricky task, made tougher with just 12 players to choose from and facing a partisan crowd of 4,215 in Craiova in the return fixture.
The game was back and forth, and while the hosts led by two goals midway through the first half, Kastamonu turned the tide and enjoyed a one-goal advantage at the break.
SCM's goalkeeper Florentina Stanciu played an excellent game and, thanks to her saves, the Romanian team came back to 11:10 by the 35th minute.
However, Kastamonu fought extremely hard and certainly had their chance. Six minutes from time, the Turkish side were up 17:15 and had one foot in the door to the final.
There was one more twist in the tale though, as Craiova drew level and sneaked through by a single goal – going on to win the final against Kristiansand.
Arrivals and departures
Arrivals: Ekaterina Lubianaia (Boden Handball IF), Yulia Khavronina (SCM Craiova), Alena Ikhneva (Kisvarda Master Good), Ekaterina Vetkova (JDA Dijon Hands), Nina Zulic (RK Krim Mercator), Sara Kovarova (DHK Banik Most), Merve Durdu (Muratpaşa Belediyesi SK), Kübra Sarıkaya (Muratpaşa Belediyesi SK), Halime İslamoğlu (İzmir Büyükşehir Belediyesi SK), Julia Eriksson (IK Savehof), Amanda Kurtovic (Györi Audi ETO KC – on loan)
Departures: Olga Vaschuk (unknown), Joanna Malgorzata Woloszyk (Saint-Amand Handball), Renata Kayumova (unknown), Yana Uskova (unknown), Fatmagül Sakızcan (Yalıkavak SK), Aslı İskit (Thüringer HC), Yeliz Özel (Yalıkavak SK), Andrea Seric (SCM Craiova), Yasemin Güler (İzmir Büyükşehir Belediyesi SK), Anca Rombescu (İzmir Büyükşehir Belediyesi SK)
National league (2): 2016/17, 2018/19
National cup: -