All teams and players were disappointed, when COVID-19 interrupted the 2019/20 Baltic Handball League season. ZRHK Tenax Dobele maybe even more than others, as they already had one leg in the Final Four, to which they have never qualified. By several rivals the six-time Latvian champion is considered one of the main favourites for 2020/21.
The club in the cultural region of Zemgale was established back in 1996 and quite quickly became familiar name in Latvian handball. Tenax won their first Latvian title in 1998/99 and since then – for 22 seasons – has never dropped out of top three of the league. It did take 15 years to win the second title, but in the last six seasons they have won the championship five times.
Tenax made their Baltic league debut in 2000/01, but in 15 seasons they have yet to qualify for Final Four. In 2014/15 Tenax was close to winning the second-tier Baltic Challenge League, but lost in the final 28:22 to HC Dragunas Klaipeda.
2019/20 was set to become the most successful season in Tenax’s history. At first they qualified to the third round of EHF Challenge Cup losing only narrowly to former winners AHC Potaissa Turda of Romania. In March, Tenax was leading in the Latvian league and had beaten VHC Šviesa Vilnius away by four goals in the first leg of BHL quarter-finals.
“It was very sad, especially for the players. The club invested in them and they had worked so hard last season, but in the end there is nothing to show for it. Especially for the BHL, where it was the last season with Cocks and SKA taking part. It would have been great to fight against those teams in the Final Four,” said Tenax’s head coach Sandris Veršakovs.
“I think we have to wait and see, how the BHL works out with the new system. I recently counted that we may have over 50 games this season if we go all the way in domestic league and BHL, plus advance in European cup for a round or two. We are not a professional team, so it will be hard,” evaluated Veršakovs.
The new season Tenax started at Rimantas Baltušis Memorial, winning all group matches, including against Serviti Põlva and Šviesa before losing the final 33:28 to Dragunas. Tenax missed a lot of players in Klaipeda and according to Veršakovs they were too tired for the decisive match.
Tenax has made very few changes in the squad, as Aivis Jurdžs – who left already in January for TV Emstetten – has prolonged contract with the German side. But Latvian champion has brought back an international left back Toms Lielais after several years in Germany and Luxembourg.
“We are also having negotiations with Cocks to bring back Nils Kreicbergs. And Latvian international goalkeeper Arturs Kugis from RK Vardar Skopje is with us, but we will sign him if he does not find a new club abroad,” revealed Veršakovs two potential top-class signings with EHF Champions League experience.
“The goals for Tenax are always the same – go as far as possible in every competition we participate. We hope COVID-19 situation does not get worse, so we can have a full season and we definitely do not want to take a step back, only forward,” assured Tenax’s head coach.
ZRHK Tenax Dobele
Best domestic results: 6-time Latvian champion (last 2018/19), Latvian cup-winner 2016 and 2018
Best European results: reached 3rd round of EHF Challenge Cup 2019/20
Best results in BHL: 5-time quarter-finalist (last five seasons)
Head coach: Sandris Veršakovs
Key players: Maris Veršakovs, Oskars Arajs, Nikita Pančenko, Toms Lielais
Opening match in BHL: 05/09/2020 ZRHK Tenax Dobele – SK Latgols Ludza
On photo: ZRHK Tenax Dobele hopes to have cause for celebration at the end of the 2020/21 season. (Photo: Helin Potter).