What’s happening in Norwegian handball

Men emerge as surprise leaders, women returning to respectability

Photo: Beate Oma Dahle / NTB
Kolstad’s Magnus Langeland maneuvers between Drammen’s Gøran Sørheim (left) and Espen Gommerud Våg (right) in the first qualifying round of the EHF European League on Aug. 27. Langeland leads Kolstad, which is undefeated in the REMA-1000 league, with 66 goals.

Michael Kleiner
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American

Who’s that stranger in first place in Norway’s REMA-1000 men’s handball league? When the league paused action Dec. 21 ahead of the holiday season and the world championships Jan. 13-29, Kolstad was atop the table with 14 wins, 0 ties, 0 losses, 28 points, seven up on Drammen (10-1-3-21), eight ahead of Elverum (10-0-4-20).

Elverum has been to the league finals 10 straight years, winning the last eight titles.

Kolstad took the first meeting against Elverum, 26-24 before a home crowd of 9,063 fans at Trondheim Spektrum, Oct. 22. Kolstad rallied from a 13-10 halftime deficit as Janus Dadi Smarason finished with 7 goals and 5 assists, Simen Ulstad Lyse 3-4, Gabriel Ostad Setterblom and Magnus Gullerud  4-2, Adrian Aaberg 4-0, and Magnus Langeland 2-2. The regular season ends with the two facing each other at Elverum, April 2.

In the first qualifying round of the EHF European League on Aug. 27, Kolstad edged Drammen 28-26, but on Nov. 27, Kolstad jumped to a 16-11 halftime lead en route to a 31-21 REMA-1000 league victory behind Smarson 5-9, Simen Ulstad Lyse 3-8, Setterblom 4-3, Aaberg 6-0, Sigvaldi Björn Gudjonsson 5-0, and Gullerud 4-1.

There are a few factors to Kolstad’s rise. They are coached by former national team coach Christian Berge. The goal was to have Kolstad be Norway’s best in 2024.

“We are starting to achieve something, although we are still looking for stability for 60 minutes,” said Berge on handball.no.

Three Kolstad players—goalie Torbjørn Bergerud, line Gullerud, and back Vetle Eck Aga—are on the Norway national team, and two–back Smarson and right winger Gudjonsson are on the Iceland national team.

The team has scored the most goals and yielded the least in the league for a 7.7 average margin of victory, Kolstad has a balanced attack. Langeland is the leading scorer with 66 goals (4.7), 11th in the league followed by Gudjonnson (60, 4.3), Lyse 48 (3.4), Aaberg 46 (3.5), and Gullerud 44 (3.1). The league leader is fifth-place Halden’s (6-3-5-15) Truls Erik Grøtta with 94 (6.7).

“I am clear that the player will be given a role, and he must know it inside and out,” explained Berge, who also coached at Elverum. “That’s how I thought about the national team. The foundation is then more secure. I’m not saying it’s the end—there are many ways to go—but I like that way of working.”

There are nine games and the playoffs left so nothing is assured. Last year’s league-leading scorer, Drammen’s Hermann Vildalen, is coming back from a shoulder injury. Viktor Petersen Norberg paces Drammen with 69 goals (4.9). Tobias Schjølberg Grøndahl leads Elverum with 78 goals (6.0), while fourth-place Runar Sandefjord (9-0-5-18) has the second best, Christoffer Rambo, with 90 (6.4). Sixth-place Bækkelaget (6-2-6-14) has  Jens Dolberg Plougstrup (86, 6.6) and Peter Dahl Christensen (82, 5.9).

“The league is better than it has been for a while,” said Berge. “Many clubs train well. Many young people get the chance on clubs that are a little further down the road. It can be healthy. We need players who gain experience.”

Jan. 5-8:  In preparation for  the world championships, Norway won the Gjensidige Cup, beating Portugal 38-27; Brazil 30-23 and the United States 43-26 at Trondheim Spektrum.

Larvik women’s handball returning to respectability

Photo: Terje Bendiksby / NTB
Larvik’s Heidi Løke (55) shoots against her former team, Kristiansand, on Sept. 1. The 40-year-old Løke, in her third stint with Larvik, is among the reasons Larvik has returned to respectability in the REMA-1000 league.

For 18 years, from 2001-2017, Larvik women’s handball didn’t lose a league game. It won the 2011 Champions League. The performance on the court couldn’t mask the financial problems the team faced off the court. Due to that factor, Larvik was demoted to 1st Division in 2019.

By that time Vipers Kristiansand was taking the torch as most dominant, beating Larvik in the 2017-2018 finals, and Storhamar, which eliminated Larvik in the semifinals, in 2018-2019. Larvik finished fourth, 13-1-8, 27 points, 15 behind Kristiansand, which has won two more titles, is unbeaten in 47 games (one draw in 2021-22), and 105-3-4 since 2017-2018.

Larvik returned to the top league in the pandemic shortened 2020-2021 season and went 0-1-9. In 2021-2022, Larvik inched up to ninth place, 9-5-12, 23 points.

As of Jan. 8, Larvik was in third place, 6-1-4, 13 points, seven behind Vipers,  who routed Larvik 35-18, Sept. 1, 40-22, Oct. 19. Storhamar was only one point ahead of Larvik. Larvik had opened the season with a 50-17 rout of Halden. Marianne Haugsted, Tirill Alexandrine Solumsmoen Mørch, and Maja Furu Sæteren each scored 10 goals as Larvik scored 29 goals in the second half.

This season is Larvik’s 30th in the top loop, trailing Nordstrand (41), Byåsen (40), Stabæk (33), Gjerpen (31) and Tertnes (31). Only  Larvik, Byåsen, and Tertnes are in the elite league this campaign. It is the 56th season of the women’s handball league.

Larvik’s  708 league matches trails Nordstrand (893) and Byåsen (852).

It was a busy offseason. Seven players signed with Larvik, two of whom are making their third stint with the club. Most notably is Heidi Løke, who turned 40 on Dec. 12 and gave birth to her third child in April. She signed a three-year contract. In the Larvik part of her storied career, she has scored 1,146 goals in 150 games (all competitions), 10th on Larvik’s all-time list. After winning the Champions League title and being named the world’s best player in 2011, she played six years with Hungarian power Györ, two in Storhamar and three with the Vipers, Her commute between her home in Sandefjord to Hamar and Kristiansand became wearing. Kristiansand released Løke from her contract so she could sign with Larvik.

The other third-timer is Amanda Kurtović (Braila/Romania), 31, while the other newcomers are goalkeeper Eli Smørgrav Skogstrand (Tertnes), 22, Marianne Haugsted (Oppsal), 21, Polina Gencheva (Sandefjord and Bulgaria), 24, Ingrid Vinjevoll, 19, and Silje Vinjevoll (Pors), 20.

Sæteren leads the team with 63 goals (5.7), third in the league, followed by 57 from Kurtović (6.3, sixth in the league), 45 from Løke (4.1) and 36 from Andrea Rønning (3.3).

“I am very happy to be back in Larvik,” said Løke after signing. “I had a great time here before. There are many young, good players here. It will be fun to take part in building up Larvik. I was involved in a similar process in Gjerpen a number of years ago and know that it is a lot of fun to be a part of.”

Jan. 9: Vipers coach Ole Gustav Gjekstad will become coach of Danish Odense following the season…Jan. 8: In the opening round of the European League, Sola beat Podravka Vegeta (Croatia) 35-29; Molde lost 33-32 to Borussia Dortmund; Fana fell 35-29 to Mosonmagyarovari (Hungary).

This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of NorCham Philadelphia. Visit Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.