Larvik women’s handball glory days in the past
Men’s, women’s leagues’ top teams same old, same old, but look out for the third place teams
JO CHRISTIAN WELDINGH
The year 2020 was a good one for Norwegian handball. It started with a European Championship bronze medal for the men’s national team last January, and ended with a European Championship gold medal for the women’s national team in December. The men’s national team is one of the favorites to win the current World Championship in Egypt that was being played at the time of writing this article. The national leagues, both the men’s and the women’s, have gone on as scheduled. They started on Aug. 26 and Aug. 19 respectively, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, the attendance has been limited to 200 spectators per game.
On Jan. 19, the Norwegian Handball Association followed the government’s recommendation to halt league play for at least two weeks. Games scheduled up to and including Feb. 2 have been canceled and will not be rescheduled. Here is how the league was shaping up at the time of the pause.
The national handball leagues are, and have been for decades, one-sided. The best run clubs have access to resources the smaller teams lack, and it is not uncommon for the league champion to go a full season without losing a single game. For example, from 2001 to 2017, Larvik HK’s women’s team went on an 18-year run without losing a single league game.
Financial trouble is a common thread that runs through Norwegian handball, as most clubs’ budgets are stretched thin. If a club gets a little too ambitious or makes the wrong investment, a club may have to sell players or cut wages to keep afloat and then spend years rebuilding. Larvik HK, the former Norwegian handball locomotive that won everything there is to win in Norway and in Europe, was moved down a division in 2019, when it was deemed financially unsound by the Norwegian Handball Association.
This season, after one year on the second highest level, Larvik HK is back in the top division, but their time as a Norwegian handball superpower is past. They are 0-1-9 with one point. Where old Larvik went for top domestic and international players, they now have a more modest approach, aiming for the best local players. Eight players from Larvik and the surrounding area have been on the court this season. This approach may not lead to another league title, but it might lead to a strong local affiliation and attract spectators.
In the 2020/2021 women’s league, both Storhamar Håndball Elite and Vipers Kristiansand have won all their matches so far and will likely battle it out for the No. 1 spot. They are scheduled to play each other on March 3 and March 28 The Vipers are led by veteran Heidi Løke with 49 goals in eight games, and Linn Jørum Sulland with 45 goals in 11 games. Storhamar has five players with 40 or more goals, topped by Maja Jakobsen with 56 and Emilie Margrethe Hovden, 55.
Sola, which had five wins, one tie and 16 losses last year, is lurking in third place (9-0-2), six points behind Storhamar, four shy of Kristiansand. They have the league’s leading scorer Malin Holta with 81 goals and the third leading scorer, Camilla Herrem (67) and Kristina Sirum Novak (49).
In the men’s league, it’s a similar situation, where Elverum has won all their games but one and are league leaders, despite having played three games fewer than second placed ØIF Arendal Elite. Because of the world championship in Egypt, Jan. 13-31, the men’s league was already paused. Elverum is scheduled to play Arendal on March 28.
Elverum is paced by Simen Holand Pettersen (57 goals) and Tobias Schjølberg Grøndahl (55). Arendal is powered by Sondre Paulsen (84), Olaf Richter Hoffstad (74) and Lars Haubro Jakobsen (50). Drammen is looking to make waves, sitting in third place, two points behind Elverum, one in back of Arendal. They have six players with more than 50 goals: Viktor Petersen Norberg (73), Oskar Olafsson (65), Alexander Ørjevik Westby (63), Jesper Meinby Pedersen (55), Ola Hoftun Lillelien and Sindre André Aho (51 each).
Handball is a small sport internationally, but going by active members of sports teams, it is the third largest sport in Norway, only beaten by cross-country skiing and soccer. The annual international championships are televised and watched by millions of Norwegians. Last year, the Norwegian women’s team and Sander Sagosen, the best player on the men’s team, were nominated for awards on the annual Norwegian Sports Gala.
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 29, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.