Difficult Baltic Handball League season in difficult circumstances is about to reach its climax. Klaipeda will host the Final Four this weekend with HC Dragunas playing Serviti Põlva in the first semi-final, while regular season winners VHC Šviesa Vilnius meet Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus to determine the second finalist.
“There is no secret – it has been a very difficult season. And while there were doubts at certain times, it has been the co-operation of all twelve clubs and especially the Baltic Handball Association, which has helped us to reach the conclusion of the season,” admits BHL manager Urmo Sitsi.
“Weekly video conferences between national associations, clubs working with us and looking for solutions instead of problems – all this has been contributing to the process. Obviously we had bigger and better plans, but we have all learned so much during this season and it will help us in the future, even when situation will normalize,” added Sitsi.
Arturas Juškenas: concluding the season makes everyone a winner
Only one of the four remaining teams has won the BHL trophy before, so there is a 75% chance we will have a new winner. Serviti triumphed twice more than a decade ago with their last victory from season 2009/2010. Dragunas and Šviesa have both finished third once, as Varsa-Stronglasas makes its Final Four debut.
“Yes, one team will be crowned BHL champions on Sunday, but I believe we are all winners this season – all clubs and the three federations. During these difficult times we have shown unity and to finish the season with a Final Four is already a big win for everyone,” said host club Dragunas’ head coach Arturas Juškenas.
Serviti and Dragunas have obviously met numerous times in BHL, but recent history is on the side of the Lithuanians. Dragunas has won four out of five matches in last two seasons and only in the latest one in February the result was a 27:27 draw.
“We have had some memorable battles,” admits Juškenas. “No matter what the situation, our matches against Serviti have always been tight and mostly decided in final minutes, if not seconds. You can throw a coin one hundred times and end up with a 50-50 chance – this is how even it is prior to the semi-final,” commented Dragunas’ boss.
“It has not been easy against Lithuanians this season, but we prepare seriously for the Final Four and look to fight. We are on the road for the third weekend in a row, so this can have an effect. Dragunas is a tricky opponent for us and recently we have struggled with stopping the Virbauskas-brothers,” admits Serviti’s head coach Kalmer Musting.
All-Lithuanian semi-final to determine the second finalist
Šviesa has this season won both Baltic and Lithuanian league regular season, suffering just one defeat in the process, when they surprisingly lost to SK Tapa/N.R. Energy. In the Lithuanian championship, the only point loss came back in October, when Saturday’s semi-final opponent Varsa-Stronglasas held them to a 29:29 draw.
“I don’t consider us favourites despite we finished top of the table. Final Four is a special occasion, Alytus has very experienced squad and they will be dangerous. I would say there are four favourites and it is not just making a compliment – the teams really are very equal in strength,” claimed Šviesa’s head coach Raimondas Maldžius.
If the last Estonian winner of BHL dates back to 2011/2012 season, when HC Kehra triumphed, then Lithuanian clubs have not won the competition in this century. Varsa-Stronglasas returned to BHL after almost 30 years of absence and produced some strong results on their way to Final Four.
“It is a surprise for us to be in Final Four. With Latvian teams dropping out, we earned our place and consider this already a big achievement. I hope to prepare my players mentally well for the weekend, as for many this may be the only chance to win something in BHL,” said Egidijus Petkevičius, Varsa-Stronglasas head coach.
“Our first opponent Šviesa is very strong this season. They almost never lose, have compiled excellent team and gained experience both in BHL and in European competitions. However, we have performed well against them and hope to do it again on Saturday,” added Petkevičius.
Baltic Handball League Final Four:
10.04. 15:00 Serviti Põlva – HC Dragunas Klaipeda
10.04. 17:30 VHC Šviesa Vilnius – Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus
11.04. 13:00 Final or bronze-medal match (involving Serviti)
11.04. 16:20 Final or bronze-medal match
On photo: Varsa-Stronglasas Alytus took a point from regular season winner VHC Šviesa Vilnius in October, now they meet in the semi-finals. (Photo: VHC Šviesa).