Reistad relishing flurry of top-flight clashes
If there was a “best young player” award at the Women’s EHF EURO 2020, chances are that Henny Reistad would have won it.
The 21-year-old Norwegian enjoyed somewhat of a breakout championship at an international level, playing an important role in her team’s run to the gold medal and finishing in the top 10 for goals and assists combined.
In a competition full of surprises and fluctuating form, Norway were consistently brilliant, winning all eight matches en route to their first gold since 2016.
“I feel that we got better and better in every match and we developed throughout the championship, learning from every game,” says Reistad.
“It was the same for me as well, especially in defence. It felt safer to stand side by side and our confidence grew during the championship.”
A change of mindset
Alongside her confident performances in defence, Reistad became a reliable impact player in attack, adding a new dimension to the back court, which even she may not have expected.
“It was a special tournament for me. In the last few years, I have been more used to playing centre back, but now I was playing more at left back.
“I learned a lot from that as I had to change my mindset a bit, which was very useful and I hope to be able to take that into the Champions League matches now,” says Reistad.
Of particular importance during this unprecedented event in handball was putting the circumstances to one side and delivering quality performances – a factor particularly applicable to Norway, who, until shortly before the event, were expecting to be playing at home.
Unsurprisingly though, Norway displayed the mental toughness and resilience they are known for throughout the handball world.
“To see how all the girls were so focused on preparing for every training and every match, how determined they were to make sure they were ready to play at their best each time, especially towards the final weekend – everyone did everything they could to win the last two matches. It was fascinating to see how much everyone really wanted it.”
Getting out for a walk, grabbing a coffee or meeting friends and family were all impossible during the squad’s four-week stay in Denmark, meaning switching off and not overthinking things became even more of a challenge.
“It was tricky to switch off. It was only in the last four days that I watched a series, Hjem til jul (Home for Christmas), to get my mind off handball and get into the Christmas spirit,” says Reistad.
“That was the first time I felt I could switch my head off and think about something else. Besides that, I felt it was really intense, but it did not bother me that much to be thinking so much about handball because we were winning every match and it was fun.”
A chance to try new things
With her first senior international gold in her pocket and a Christmas break behind her, the explosive back court player has now set her sights on the DELO EHF Champions League, where she plays alongside six of her fellow gold medallists at Vipers Kristiansand.
“It is not difficult to get myself motivated again. I got the time I wanted with my family and I felt that 10 days was enough. Now I am good to go back and start playing again,” says Reistad.
Vipers have a bit of catching up to do. Having played just four matches in the group phase so far, they have the remaining 10 matches scheduled over the next five weeks – a daunting task on paper, but one which Reistad is relishing.
“I feel like, with so many Champions League matches coming in the next month, it will be a good opportunity for me to develop as a player, to learn and try new things.
“It is fun to play in so many good matches, because if something you try works in one of those matches, it will work in the next matches and you know it is something you can add to your game to be a better player.
“I am very motivated to play and it is a good thing to know Vipers have the opportunity to get many points in the group and maybe qualify directly to the quarter-finals.”
The Norwegian champions have enjoyed an ideal start to the campaign, with three wins and a draw against Saturday’s opponents in Match of the Week – Team Esbjerg.
Reistad feels similar vibes to her first campaign with the club, when they reached the EHF FINAL4 in Budapest in 2019:
“Similar to the national team, I think we will become a better team with the more matches we play, so it may not be perfect at the start but it will improve with each game we play, so I hope the level we start with is good enough to win the first matches.
“I think we can compare it to my first season with the team, in 2018/19, when we just got better and better as we got to know each other as a team, so I think and hope we will do this as well.
“I hope we can go through this time with very few or no injuries and, if we can manage that, I think we will be confident in these matches to rotate the squad and know that everyone can come in and score some goals or help the team.”
Familiar foes in MOTW
Some added spice to Match of the Week is that it will be a battle of EHF EURO 2020 champions, with six Norwegians playing for Esbjerg – five of them in the EHF EURO squad.
“I think it will be special because we have spent so much time together in Denmark – you know how they think, how they want to play their own handball,” says Reistad.
“It can make it easier or harder, because you might know what their weaknesses are but they also know yours, so we will have to watch them a bit and see what we can do to improve in the last game.”
The first game between the sides was an entertaining 27:27 draw back in October, so what will make the difference on Saturday?
“I think we need to play with more ease in attack. We scored many goals in that game, which is good, but I think we can be more cynical in how we play when we take the ball in defence and dictate when we want to play fast or slow down.”
Rostov-Don currently sit pretty at the top of group A, with an unbeaten record, but behind them the group is wide open and Reistad is not shy about her and her team’s ambitions.
“We have a good position now but there are many teams we have yet to play against. We have a wish to be in the top two and go directly to the quarter-finals, or if we cannot do that, then put ourselves in the best position possible to avoid the best teams in the other group,” concludes Reistad.