Odense’s overhaul signals bright new chapter
Ulrik Kirkely is back at the wheel in Odense, brought in among a raft of changes in the squad which he must help gel quickly if they are to make a splash in the DELO EHF Champions League.
With Lois Abbingh reconnecting in the back court with Nycke Groot and Odense possessing one of the best goalkeeper pairs in the competition, Tess Wester and Althea Reinhardt, the Danish club certainly has the tools necessary to emulate the success of their debut season in 2018/19, when they reached the quarter-finals.
- 2019 quarter-finalists return to CL after one-year absence, in which they reached semi-finals of incomplete EHF Cup
- enjoyed successful debut season in 2018/19, losing to eventual champions Györ in the quarter-finals
- massive overhaul this summer includes head coach position as Ulrik Kirkely returns after leaving in 2017 to coach Japan’s women’s national team
- eight new players join this summer, with Lois Abbingh’s move from Rostov the biggest headline
- two-time CL All-star centre back Nycke Groot will return to the limelight in her second season with the club
Most important question: Can Odense become Denmark’s top title contender?
Based purely on the result of their opening league match last Saturday (22 August) against last season’s Danish champions Esbjerg – no.
However, it would be foolish to place too much weight on the 32:22 result, considering the lengthy break and how Esbjerg have a more established squad compared to Kirkely’s newly-assembled crew.
At first glance, the transfer activity suggests their squad has become marginally weaker, losing players such as Nathalie Hagman, Ingvild Bakkerud, Stine Jørgensen, Kathrine Heindahl and Mette Tranborg – who banged in nine goals against her former club.
But alongside the addition of the world class Lois Abbingh, there is an interesting mix of established pros and talent ready to form a serious squad. It will take time, but the potential is undeniable.
Under the spotlight: Nycke Groot
Since winning her third consecutive EHF Champions League title with Györ in 2019, Nycke Groot has been absent from top international handball and my word it is good to have her back.
Having stepped away from international duty with the Netherlands, only keen followers of the Danish league and EHF Cup could witness her in action recently, which means the spotlight will be firmly fixed on the playmaker when she returns to Europe’s elite club competition.
There is little doubt that the 32-year-old’s ability to perform at this level remains and given her reduced workload over the past year, she may even hit new heights in the coming season.
How they rate themselves
Missing out on the competition last season will have hurt Odense, given the star power they have in the squad and club manager Lars Peter Hermansen does not hold back when sharing his vision for the club, stating that he wants them to “play an important role in European handball.”
Captain Kamilla Larsen takes a more happy-go-lucky approach, saying: “We are a new team with many new players, and it is going to be fantastic to fight against some of the best players in the world.”
The line player adds that she is most looking forward to facing the reigning champions: “It is always a huge experience to play against Györ. The atmosphere in their arena is exceptional, and we have missed the feeling, rush and spirit from the audience during this long break due to the COVID-19.”
Did you know?
New coach Ulrik Kirkely led Odense between 2015 and 2017 before leaving to take over Japan’s women’s national team. It was recently announced that he would continue as Japan’s coach until next summer’s rescheduled Tokyo Olympics, fulfilling both coaching roles for the coming season.
What the numbers say?
Despite their growing reputation and being regular contenders in Denmark, Odense have yet to win a title of any kind.
Two Danish league silvers, two Danish cup silvers and a quarter-final appearance in the EHF Champions League are their best results to date. They reached the semi-finals of the cancelled EHF Cup last season, which may have been their best chance of silverware.
Arrivals and departures
Newcomers: Helena Elver (Aarhus United), Malene Aambakk (Molde HK), Lois Abbingh (Rostov-Don), Rikke Iversen (Silkeborg-Voel KFUM), Anne Cecilie La Cour (København Håndbold), Ayaka Ikehara (Nykøbing F. Håndboldklub), Angelica Wallén (Nykøbing F. Håndboldklub), Katja Johansen (DHG Odense)
Left the club: Suzanne Bækhøj (DHG Odense), Nathalie Hagman (Nantes Atlantique), Susanne Madsen (Horsens Håndbold Elite), Ingvild Bakkerud (Herning-Ikast Håndbold), Mette Tranborg (Team Esbjerg), Anne Mette Pedersen (retired), Trine Østergaard (SG BBM Bietigheim), Nadia Offendal (Paris 92), Stine Jørgensen (SG BBM Bietigheim), Kathrine Heindahl (CSKA)
EHF Champions League:
Participations (including 2020/21 season): 2
Quarter-finals (1): 2018/19
EHF Cup: Semi-finals: 2019/20; Quarter-finals: 2015/16
Cup Winners’ Cup: Last 16: 2013/14
Danish league: - (runners-up 2018, 2020)
Danish cup: -