Five talking points after Bietigheim’s brilliance
The Energi Viborg EHF Finals 2022 proved the rising quality of women’s second-tier European club competition, with some high-octane matches decided by small details. The title, however, was won fair and square by SG BBM Bietigheim. The German side swept their opponents in a historic 12-game winning streak, which took their overall tally in all competitions to 50 wins in a row.
What conclusions can we draw from the two-day marquee event of the EHF European League Women season?
Bietigheim achieve historic result
Winning Europe’s second-tier competition unbeaten is not unprecedented, but Bietigheim did write history this season. In the 1983/84, Romanian side Chimistul Ramnicu Valcea won the EHF Cup with six wins in a row, but that performance has been overshadowed by Bietigheim this season.
Bietigheim pulled apart all their rivals, established one of the strongest defences, and went on a rampant 12-game winning streak which started in the last qualification round before the group phase against Norwegian side Tertnes Bergen, and ended with the Energi Viborg EHF Finals and the outstanding final win against hosts Viborg HK, 31:20.
It was a resounding performance, as Bietigheim had an average winning margin of 8.2 goals. Markus Gaugisch’s side eliminated strong teams like defending champion Les Neptunes de Nantes, Herning-Ikast Håndbold and Viborg HK in convincing manner and duly deserved of securing the trophy, the first in the competition for a German team in 30 years after SC Leipzig win it in 1991/92.
Unity and team spirit lift Bietigheim
Team spirit: A quality that can enhance a team to a powerhouse status or can bury one if the chemistry between the players is not there. Fortunately for Bietigheim, they had it in spades this season, proven time and time again in difficult situations. Back in the group phase, their team spirit was proven against Polish side MKS Zaglebie Lubin, who were leading 9:6, after 15 minutes. For the next 17 minutes, Lubin failed to score a goal, while Bietigheim truly took care of the game, going on an 11:0 unanswered run.
Fast-forward five months to May 2022, that team spirit was still there. In the final against Viborg, Markus Gaugisch gave playing time to all of the members of his team, as 11 of the 12 outfield players scored at least one goal. The sheer depth of the German side could have posed serious questions marks for Gaugisch, but credit where it is due, he navigated this issue with amazing skill, as all his players were kept happy. In fact, Bietigheim’s top scorer this season, right back Julia Maidhof, scored 50 goals, being only the fifth top scorer of the competition, 22 goals behind the leader, Viborg’s Kristina Jørgensen.
Herning-Ikast make a step further
“This is a step further for us than last season and we have a young team that will definitely look stronger next season.” Herning-Ikast coach Kasper Christensen looked confident in his post-tournament assessment after his side finished third in the Energi Viborg EHF Finals, a place higher than last season. The Danish side looked to stand no chance of progressing to the final after being down seven goals against Bietigheim in the semi-final but proved to be a plucky team and mounted a superb comeback, thanks to an ultra-aggressive tactic from Christensen, who went all in on a seven-on-six attacking tactic.
It proved to be a successful gamble, only for Bietigheim to score the decisive goal with two seconds to go through back Karolina Kudlacz-Gloc, and seal a 34:33 win. Herning-Ikast were still the top attacking side in the competition, just like last season, and kept their core intact despite losing experienced goalkeeper Sabine Englert and centre back Sonja Frey. They won the first game of the Danish league semi-final against Odense Håndbold 31:24 and might be on their way to an EHF Champions League berth for next season – truly a step further.
Viborg are back in the elite circle
Credit to Viborg HK for putting up an impressive organisation of the Energi Viborg EHF Finals and packing the arena in their traditional green shirts, despite losing the final against Bietigheim. It was the end of a cycle for the Danish powerhouse, who came back to a European final for the first time since winning the Women’s Cup Winners’ Cup in the 2013/14 season.
As the top goal scorer of the EHF European League Women, Kristina Jørgensen, and defensive lynchpin Line Haugsted will leave this summer, coach Jakob Vestergaard needs to embark on a serious rebuild if next season is going to be as successful as this one.
While it might have been only the first second-tier European competition final lost by Viborg, the Danish side lost a single game this season, won seven, drew the other two, and left the impression that they might be once again challenging for their 10th European title. Whether the new transfers, like centre back Kerstin Kündig or right wing Emilie Hovden deliver, it is still to be seen.
Are Baia Mare here to stay?
For the second season in a row, CS Minaur Baia Mare made the EHF Finals Women – despite a depleted roster. Several key players left from the team that finished third last season in the EHF European League Women and a new, inexperienced coach arrived on the bench. It was a season to remember for the Romanian side which gathered just five points in the group phase but still made it to the EHF Finals.
Two losses against two Danish sides in two days do not tell the whole story for the Romanian team, who missed the third spot after a loss on penalties against Herning-Ikast Håndbold, 29:28. They put up a fight and never gave up, despite the lack of experience and depth. While their top two goal scorers – backs Jelena Lavko (60 goals) and Cristina Laslo (48) – will be leaving this summer, the future still looks good for Baia Mare, who will be looking to make a comeback in international competitions next season.
Photo: Axel Heimken / kolektiff