Weekend marathon of twelve matches in Baltic Handball League produced more or less everything – high level handball definitely, but also some very tight matches, one big surprise and some really high-scoring games. And it also produced a lone leader in the competition, as ZRHK Tenax Dobele from Latvia is the only unbeaten side after four rounds.
Latvian champion played on Saturday away against their domestic arch-rival Celtnieks Riga and the two sides possibly created the “game of the weekend”. It was very competitive and tight match, but also with big swings in leadership. Tenax had an early four-goal lead, while Celtnieks then jumped ahead by six goals.
From -6 to +2 – Tenax turned the game around
Tenax took a 6:2 lead in the ninth minute, but soon veteran Janis Gremzde equalized it for Celtnieks 7:7. Raitis Purinš started to perform miracles in hosts’ goal and Celtnieks went ahead 16:12. By 38th minute Arturs Klavinš extended the lead to 21:15, but very slowly Tenax started to come back.
They had their own miracle-maker between the posts in 18-year-old Martinš Ozolinš, but in the 56th minute Celtnieks was still ahead 28:26 after Aliaksei Haisa’s goal. However, the remaining four goals were scored by visitors and Tenax took a 30:28 victory. Haisa scored nine goals for Celtnieks, while Maris Veršakovs and Andis Ermanis eight for the winners.
“We had no games for three weeks, so this showed in our match against Celtnieks. Their defence was very good and Purinš in great form, so they forced us to many mistakes. But we never gave up and played a very successful endgame. Maybe we were better physically, plus Celtnieks missed few key players, but in any case it was a very good win,” admits Tenax’s head coach Sandris Veršakovs.
It was an easier day in the office for both teams on Sunday, as Tenax beat SK Latgols Ludza 39:18 and Celtnieks defeated HK Ogre 40:31. In the latter game Dmitrijs Petuhovs scored weekend’s highest individual score with 13 goals. On Saturday, Latgols celebrated first win of their debut season by beating Ogre 34:29 with BHL top scorer Endijs Kušners contributing 11 goals.
Tapa claims debut win against Šviesa
In the big Estonian and Lithuanian match-up of eight games between the clubs of those two countries, Lithuania came out on top as they won six games to Estonia’s two. One of the two however was the biggest shock of the competition so far as SK Tapa/N.R. Energy took their debut victory by beating VHC Šviesa Vilnius 28:23.
Tapa made a shock start at home against the Lithuanian cup-winner, taking a 5:0 lead. And the youthful team never let go, extending it by half-time to 16:9. 39-year-old goalkeeper Mikola Naum was in incredible form, while Martin Adamson and Vahur Oolup scored at will. The final result was 28:23 for Tapa, as Adamson scored eight times.
Šviesa produced 57 shots on goal, but only 23 of them landed in the net. “We are obviously very happy right now, but will keep our feet on the ground. Maybe Šviesa underestimated as a little bit, but an early lead gave us the belief we can win. We got tired in the second half, but found the right substitutions for today,” commented Tapa’s coach Aron Jaanis.
On Sunday, Šviesa rehabilitated themselves, travelling to Põlva to beat Serviti 30:26 with Karolis Antanavičius scoring 10 goals. Tapa could not build on the victory and lost to Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus 25:20. All four teams in this quartet had a weekend of one win and one defeat, as Serviti had beaten Varsa-Stronglasas on Saturday by 26:19.
Juškenas: happy with points and with competitiveness of the league
In four games played in Lithuania, the hosts were not very hospitable, as HC Dragunas Klaipeda and Granitas-Karys Kaunas took victories on both days, defeating the visiting HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper and Viljandi HC.
On Saturday, Dragunas made everything clear by half-time, as they led 19:9 and even with Kehra coming back, Lithuanian champion still enjoyed a 32:26 win. On Sunday, Viljandi put up good resistance and every time Dragunas started to break away, the young Estonians closed the gap. But Dragunas’ experience and longer bench led to a 39:30 win.
“The first half against Kehra was exactly the handball we want to show and play. Obviously very happy with four points, but I am equally happy with the level and the competitiveness of the league. Viljandi showed great character against us and the score does not reveal how difficult the match was for us. Tapa defeating Šviesa also proves, that this season you cannot underestimate any opponent,” said Dragunas’ head coach Arturas Juškenas.
Starting the season with two defeats, Granitas-Karys bounced back with two hard-fought victories. On Saturday, Viljandi had a 26:23 lead with ten minutes to go, but an incredible 9:1 spell brought Lithuanians to a 32:27 win. The day later, five-time BHL champion led most of the game against another former winner Kehra and won a very tight match by 26:24.
Tenax remains the only unbeaten side and has maximum of eight points. Celtnieks, Serviti, Dragunas and Šviesa follow with six, while Granitas-Karys and Varsa-Stronglasas have four. Three remaining Estonian sides and Latgols have one win in the table and Ogre is the only team yet to have grabbed a point. Endijs Kušners of Latgols continues as top scorer with 40 goals, Aliaksei Haisa of Celtnieks has 34 and Arminas Stankunas of Granitas 30 goals.
On photo: VHC Šviesa Vilnius produced 57 shots on goal against SK Tapa/N.R. Energy, but only 23 of them landed in the net, mostly thanks to Mikola Naum’s great performance in goal. (Photo: VHC Šviesa).