The Baltic Handball League season is still a little more than a week away, but HC Dragunas Klaipeda has already won two trophies. Nine-time Lithuanian champion triumphed in two pre-season international tournaments without losing a match, winning all nine games in Klaipeda and Alytus.
Coastal town of Klaipeda as a city was present in the inaugural season of BHL back in 1990/91, but the club Maistas Klaipeda has since been dissolved and HC Dragunas was formed in 1999. They came to prominence ten years later and have since been the strongest side in Lithuania.
Dragunas won their first domestic title in 2009/10 and have since only lost it once, adding five Lithuanian cup victories and three Supercups to the trophy cabinet. “The dragons” have been part of BHL since 2010 and will next week start their 11th consecutive season.
Lithuanian powerhouse finished third in 2011/12 behind two Estonian sides and fourth in the last Final Four that was played, in 2018/19 season. In 2014/15, Dragunas won the Baltic Challenge League with a squad that included future EHF Champions League winner Jonas Truchanovičius.
“We are looking forward to this new-look season. At first I was not sure if continuing with only Baltic teams was the right decision. But looking at results and teams on paper, I am very positive – this will be an extremely interesting season with many equal teams,” commented Arturas Juškenas, the head coach of Dragunas.
“Two pre-season tournament wins will not make us favourites. I do not consider Dragunas even a favourite to win the Lithuanian title and in BHL there are many teams that can win. Tenax has compiled a very strong squad, Serviti is always dangerous, our Lithuanian rivals are strengthening and even newcomers like SK Tapa can surprise,” said Juškenas.
Dragunas have lost a lot of firepower between two seasons. Two left backs with a total height of over four metres have left, as Lukas Simenas joined Spanish side BM Nava and Lukas Vanagas ended his career.
“It is not only the potential goals we have lost, but also our defensive pillars. We have less options for variations and if we cannot bring some new players to our back line, we are in trouble. Hope is to bring some foreigners if the pandemic allows us, but it is still a work in progress,” explained Juškenas.
“We started training already on July 7th, so we are in good shape, but it is a very long season. BHL will be in the end decided in Final Four, so spring is still far away. I just wish people in the Baltics will act responsibly and the COVID-19 situation does not get worse, so we really can play a full season of handball,” hoped Juškenas.
HC Dragunas Klaipeda
Best domestic results: 9-time Lithuanian champion (last 2018/19), 5-time Lithuanian cup-winner (last 2019)
Best European results: last 16 of EHF Challenge Cup 2012/13
Best results in BHL: bronze-medallist 2011/12, Baltic Challenge League winner 2014/15
Head coach: Arturas Juškenas
Key players: Žanas Gabrielius Virbauskas, Deividas Virbauskas, Gytis Šmantauskas
Opening match in BHL: 02/09/2020 HC Dragunas Klaipeda – Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus
On photo: HC Dragunas Klaipeda has won two pre-season tournaments, here as Rimantas Baltušis Memorial winners. (Photo: HC Dragunas).