Three teams emerged with four points from the first week of 2020/21 Baltic Handball League season. ZRHK Tenax Dobele, VHC Šviesa Vilnius and Serviti Põlva share the top three seats with four points. Celtnieks Riga also have maximum points, but they only played one match.
Latvian teams opened their BHL season on Friday and it also marked the second debut of the 2020/21 season, as SK Latgols Ludza joined SK Tapa/N.R. Energy playing first time in BHL. It was a challenge to go against Latvian champions ZRHK Tenax Dobele away and it took over four minutes for Endijs Kušners to score Latgols’ debut goal in the competition.
17-year-old Kušners scored 15 goals on BHL debut
By eighth minute Tenax was 8:2 up and it looked to become a miserable afternoon for the visitors. However, Latgols put up a very good in fight in an open and high-scoring match. Just before half-time they cut the deficit to a minimum and despite falling further behind again in the second half, kept fighting.
With five minutes to go, the score was 32:30 for Tenax, who then finished strongly and won 36:31. Still, Latgols managed to take one impressive season record to their name, as 17-year-old Endijs Kušners scored remarkable 15 goals. Antons Šuleiko was Tenax’s best with eight goals.
“Despite the result I think we played a good opening match. After all, it was the Latvian champion against us and we have mostly very young players in our squad. Due to that fact, occasionally we made decisions too quickly, but this comes with experience,” analyzed Andrejs Narnickis, head coach of Latgols.
“We tried to keep our own game plan to play fast, attacking handball and at times we succeeded. Endijs Kušners’ 15 goals was of course impressive, but despite his 17 years he is already in the national team squad and recently had a trial with Paris Saint-Germain. I hope he stays a little longer for BHL crowds to enjoy his play,” added Narnickis.
Two more matches were played in Latvia over the weekend, involving HK Ogre, who returned to BHL after their debut season of 2015/16. Celtnieks Riga beat Ogre 39:30 with Aliaksei Haisa and Renats Horvatovičs the best scorers with 11 and 10 goals respectively. On Sunday, Tenax took a 34:24 victory over Ogre, as Maris Veršakovs scored eight goals for the winning and Arvis Laganovskis six for the losing side.
Serviti defeated Kehra, Viljandi recorded first points
Classic top clash took place in Estonia, as Serviti Põlva hosted HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper on Saturday. After a slow start, the visitors went ahead 7:5, but that helped Serviti to find next gear and goals started to flow. Serviti moved 14:9 up and won the first half 15:10.
The hosts kept the match under their control, even if the final score does not reflect that. At best, Serviti was seven goals up and only in the final minutes Kehra moved closer with Serviti winning 26:24. Mathias Rebane for Serviti, Indrek Normak and Vladyslav Naumenko for Kehra all scored seven goals.
“We had the game under control, but there is not much to be happy about. We had too many technical mistakes and lost the ball in simple situations. On a positive note, scoring was good, especially from the distance,” commented Kalmer Musting, head coach of Serviti.
The other Estonian encounter was a truly even match between Viljandi HC and SK Tapa/N.R. Energy. The hosts had added Rasmus Ots to their team, as the international goalkeeper returned after two years in Germany with Bergischer HC and SG VTB/Altjührden. None of the teams had more than a two-goal lead until 42nd minute.
Then it was Viljandi, who moved 21:17 ahead. Visitors equalized again, but could not get in front and Viljandi managed to take first points of the season with a 29:28 victory. Mikk Varik scored six goals for the winners and Aleksander Oganezov eight for Tapa.
Goalkeeper Cipkus the hero for Varsa-Stronglasas
Similarly to Estonia, Lithuanians had their top clash on Sunday. VHC Šviesa Vilnius and HC Dragunas Klaipeda had just a week ago battled for the domestic Supercup with the former emerging victorious. Very fast and attractive start saw almost all draw numbers on the scoreboard until 8:8.
Šviesa then broke away and won the first half 19:12. Dragunas kept coming back, but not closer than two goals. In the 51st minute it was 27:25, but Šviesa won the remaining of the match by 9:1 and recorded an impressive 36:26 victory. Laurynas Palevičius scored six goals for Šviesa, while Mykolas Lapiniauskas and Lukas Juškenas hit six for Dragunas.
In the other match, Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus started strongly against Granitas-Karys Kaunas, just as they did on Wednesday against Dragunas. A quick 3:0 lead was however turned into 7:7 by 16th minute. And to a 12:8 lead Granitas replied with five unanswered goals. Teams went to half-time on level at 13:13.
Second half and especially the end of it belonged to Varsa-Stronglasas. Visitors missed three penalty throws inside four minutes and Varsa’s veteran goalkeeper Rytis Cipkus was in incredible form. The hosts took first points with a 27:22 victory. Six goals was the highest personal score – Remigijus Čepulis for Varsa, Arminas Stankunas and Karolis Grigas for Granitas.
“Obviously the saves of Cipkus were one of the reasons for our win, but the whole team played really well and fought for this until the final whistle. We are still missing two key players and due to this team-work is not on the level I like to see, but this will improve as the season progresses,” commented Varsa-Stronglasas’ head coach Egidijus Petkevičius.
On photo: 36-year-old Rytis Cipkus can smile – Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus took their first win in BHL and the goalkeeper was one of the heroes. (Photo: Domantas Aleksynas/Varsa-Stronglasas).