As we approach the end of the season of the revamped EHF European League, we will take a look at all four teams that will take part in the first edition of the EHF Finals Women in Baia Mare, Romania. Herning-Ikast Håndbold, Siófok KC, SC Minaur Baia Mare and Nantes Atlantique Handball will be under the spotlight on May 8th and 9th, when they face to fight for Europe's second tier title.
On today's post ahead of the EHF European League's final weekend, we'll focus on Herning-Ikast Håndbold, the Danish squad that made it to the quarter-finals of last year's competition but had to put its dream to win the title on hold, due to the cancellation of the tournament after the Coronavirus breakout.
In Baia Mare, the coached by Kasper Christensen will face Siófok KC, defending champions of the last completed season (2018/19). The Danish team will travel to Romania after a big booster this past weekend, when they beat Team Esbjerg (21-31) on the last round of the playoffs to finish first in their group. They will now face Viborg HK on the semifinals of the Bambusa Kvindeligaen.
The focus this week will be on the pursue of the European title, one of the three tournaments in which the team from Ikast are contenders in the final stages of this 2020/21 season. Besides from the EHF Women Finals and the Danish league, Herning-Ikast Håndbold are also semifinalists of the Danish Cup, for which they're also defending champions after having lifting the trophy on the 2018/19 season.
But back on the EHF European League, the Danes have made their way to the semifinals after finishing first in the group round with 5 wins and only 1 loss (Paris 92 in France) and after defeating Handball Club Lada on both games of the quarter-final series with an aggregate of 59-54.
Helene Gigstad Fauske, the Norwegian playmaker of Herning-Ikast Håndbold, took a moment to speak to Playmaker | Women’s Handball after Saturday's big win in Esbjerg to talk about the next weekend's decisive games.
"I think we started the season OK and that we've taken many steps as a team. We played good sometimes and bad another games, but that's handball", she commented on the team's performances up until this point. "I think we're on the right way and that we played better on each game. After the last match against Team Esbjerg, which are a really good team, I think we have a good feeling for the Final4 at the end of this week. We're really excited to see our level against Siófok KC, that are a great team, and we're excited to see where we stand".
The 24-year-old continued to reflect on her team's development on this season that saw many injured players: "We have had ups and downs through the season, but in the last month I think we have reached a really high level in many of the matches, and we are very good together. Yes, we’ve had many injuries, many players are coming and going and that’s a little bit hard when the players are so central in the team. But I think we found a solution for many of those situations; when a big attacking player was out, we found some other player that could fill that spot so I think we did it well".
Playmaker: Despite the fact that the context is different, of course, your team already knows what it's like to play for a title with two games in two days; and you know that if you loose that first match, you have to stand up quickly to fight for the third place. Do you feel comfortable with this Final4 format or would you have preferred the previous format?
Helene Fauske: I liked how this season has been. It’s hard to say what feelings we would have if we lost against Siófok KC, but I think we have a good chance if we play on our top level, and we have to have focus on ourselves to reach that top level. Of course we have to look a Siófok’s strengths, but in the end I think it’s more important to have focus on ourselves. Then we’ll see if we’re good enough to reach the final.
PM: You mentioned paying attention to Siófok's strenghts, what do you think their strong points are?
HF: Siofok is a professional club that has many good players, that also play, or have played, on their national teams. There are also many that have a good routine, so they might be good in some important and stressing times in the match, and therefore I think we have to play smart and with few technical faults. I think that will be the hardest with them.
PM: And regarding your team, what are your strengths?
HF: We are a team that has a good physical shape but also a lot of speed. And we have many players that have different qualities and that I think is a good advantage. That will make it hard for Siófok to prepare for each player, so I think that’s an advantage for us.
PM: We recently read on the club's website that the club's director mentioned that yours is the only Danish team that is still in the run in three competitions. I guess you'll be fighting for all three of them, but are you putting more focus on the EHF European League?
HF: I will say we’ll have focus on every medal we can get. But I think the European is a little bit higher (in consideration) because last season we couldn’t finish the European League due to Covid-19, so we didn’t really know if we were good enough to win it. But this season we can probably reach the final and win, so we are really excited to go to Romania and play, and play two matches in a weekend, I think that fits us really good.
PM: You were named best playmaker of the 2018/19 season of the Danish league and from next season you'll be a part of Brest Bretagne Handball. How do you think your handball has evolved since your arrival in Denmark?
HF: I moved (to Denmark) from Norway and that was a big step for me. I think I’ve had a positive curve; I had a little bit of a hard start this season because of some small injuries, but now I’m totally fine. Maybe I’m a little bit hard on myself, but I always look forward and upwards. I’m not always glad about the way I play because I want to be at 100% every time. I have been a very good player in Herning-Ikast, but I have to be even better, that’s why I’m moving to Brest, because I think they can help me on this way.
PM: What would it mean to you to finish your time in Herning-Ikast with some titles?
HF: It would mean a lot. I have only one medal in three seasons, so I’d like to have some more before I go. I want to finish four good seasons at the top and the dream will come true if we get all three of them. That’s hard but we have to have a goal that we can look forward to, and it’s possible, but it’s hard, of course.
Fauske, one of those virtuous playmaker's a handball fan loves to see, will try to leave the Danish club on a high note, collecting all medals at stake. And while she may not remember the departure date to Romania, her goals are clear as water: "Wednesday? Thursday? I think. I don't know. I haven’t checked the calendar; I take one day at a time".
Here's a list of things you need to know about the Danish club ahead of this weekend's exciting schedule:
Herning-Ikast Håndbold will try to win their sixth European title. The team from Jutland lifted the City-Cup 1997/98, EHF Cup 2001/02 and Cup Winners Cup 2003/4 as Ikast-Bording, and the EHF Cup 2010/11 and Cup Winners Cup 2014/15 under the name of FC Midtjylland.
The Danish side was the highest scorer of this season's EHF European League in which they scored 257 times.
Helene Fauske, single highest scorer of the quarter-finals series with 17 goals (8 on the away match in Russia, 9 at home in Ikast), is also the team's top scorer in the competition with 52 goals.
They faced Siófok KC on the group phase of last year's EHF Cup. Both matches were won by the Hungarian side: 25-21 at home and 22-34 on their visit to Denmark.
The coached by Kasper Christensen will defend their Danish Cup title on the Santander Final4 (season 2019/20) on the 5th and 6th of June in Odense. They will meet hosts Odense Håndbold on the semifinals; the other match will be starred by Nykøbing Falster Håndbold and København Håndbold.
Herning-Ikast Håndbold claimed the Danish League titles on 4 ocasions (1998, 2011, 2013, 2015) and reached the final on the 1999, 2003, 2008, 2014, 2016 and 2019 seasons. They have also lifted the Danish Cup 8 times (1990, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2012, 2014, 2015, 2019) and were runners-up of the 1994, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2013 seasons.