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News / Dragunas and Tenax the big winners of first weekend of 2019

Baltic Handball League

2019.01.21 14:25

Dragunas and Tenax the big winners of first weekend of 2019

Three days of Baltic Handball League action offered everything – we had big wins, tight matches, draws, surprises and individual heroics. In the stronger Group A perhaps surprisingly the biggest winner over three days was Dragunas Klaipeda, claiming three points. In Group B, ZRHK Tenax Dobele added four points and became the new leader.

Group A action started on Friday with all six teams involved and followed by two games on Sunday. High level handball was produced and all sides had to fight for points. Dragunas Klaipeda took three points and forced group leaders ZTR Zaporozhye to their second defeat of the season.

Arturas Juškenas: team defence the key to our success

Three time BHL winners SKA Minsk visited Klaipeda on Friday and the two teams produced a high level game, where no team led by more than three goals throughout the 60 minutes. After a 16:16 first half, SKA raced to lead 24:21 in the 51st minute, but Dragunas fought back and equalized through their Ukrainian goalkeeper Maxym Voliuvach's goal 25:25.

SKA then had a penalty throw, which Mikita Vailupau converted, but the hosts equalized again, as Gabrielius Virbauskas scored with just five seconds remaining. SKA's goal from throw-off was then disallowed and the match ended in a 26:26 draw. Karolis Bliuvas scored 7 goals for Dragunas and Vailupau 8 for SKA.

On Sunday, Dragunas were treated to a shock start from ZTR Zaporozhye, as the Ukrainians raced into a 5:0 lead! Hosts came close, but Group A leaders won the first half by 17:13. It was not until 46th minute, when Dragunas had their first lead of the game, 24:23 and then won the match by 28:26. Bliuvas scored 5 this time and Oleksii Ganchev 7 for the visitors.

"Did not expect three points from this matches, lets be honest," admits Dragunas' head coach Arturas Juškenas. "But the fighting spirit of our team was this time on the highest level. We were tired by the end of both games, but the team defence was probably the key on both occasions. Very happy with the character my players showed!"

ZTR has lost only twice this season, both defeats came against Dragunas and Juškenas has an explanation: "Obviously we know each other well, I used to coach ZTR and I know their players' strengths and weaknesses. By now, the connections between our clubs are transforming it almost like a derby-games. It was tough, close to fighting with red cards to players, but after the matches there is a great friendship between two clubs."

Serviti defeated SKA for the first time in more than four years

Prior to travelling to Klaipeda, ZTR secured their lead in Group A by defeating Serviti Põlva 29:23 (15:13). Again, the Ukrainians started brightly, taking a 4:0 lead, but then allowed the hosts to fight back to 8:8. ZTR found another gear and eventually won comfortably. Ganchev was once again unstoppable and scored 8 goals, while Serviti's best was Stanislav Kholodiuk with 7.

"Obviously only two points from this trip was not what we came for. But this is sport – you cannot win everything. First match was better from our side, but against Dragunas it turned out very very difficult. Losing second time to the same time is hard and we have to analyze exactly why this happened," said ZTR's head coach Vitaliy Nat.

"The BHL matches are very important for us and give us a lot of information, as well as top level experience. We can learn from both, defeats and victories to help the team develop further. Obviously it would be nice to win all the time, but as they say – without defeats there won't be victories," added Nat.

Last season's BHL runner-up Serviti bounced back well from the ZTR-defeat and arguably produced their best performance of the season by defeating SKA on Sunday by 29:24 (15:13). Henri Hiiend rose to leader's status for the hosts with 7 goals, while Vailupau and Artem Rabushka scored 5 for SKA. Last time Serviti beat SKA in BHL, was in November of 2014!

"Compared to Friday we managed to get much more out of our team and players. Especially in defensive work, where we have had problems this season. I am very happy with the stability shown and of course Eston Varusk was excellent in goal, making 18 saves. Position in the table is not great and from remaining matches three out of four are away," commented Kalmer Musting, Serviti's head coach.

Peleda's penalty save gives Šviesa a derby-win

In fact, Group A action started on Friday with a match in Riihimäki, where title-defender Cocks hosted HC Kehra/Horizon Pulp&Paper, who is still without a point this season. It was not as straightforward game as expected, despite the Finns running away with 6:1 lead and winning first half 16:11.

Second half started with Kehra's excellent fight-back and by 42nd minute, Cocks' lead was cut to a minimum – 21:20. However, EHF Champions League team found another gear, captain Teemu Tamminen became unstoppable in attack and Cocks returned to winning ways with a 33:25 victory. Tamminen and Dmytro Yankovskiy scored 8 goals for their teams.

Group B produced equally fascinating matches and definitely no less drama over the weekend. Two Lithuanian teams knowing each other very well from this season's domestic league and EHF Challenge Cup met on Saturday in Vilnius. Hosts VHC Šviesa had the upper hand for most of the match and had a half-time lead of 16:14.

However, Granitas-Karys Kaunas fought back and in the 44th minute Karolis Grigas put the visitors in front 21:20. Visitors extended it to 23:21, but by 57th minute Šviesa was ahead 28:25 – first time any team had a three-goal advantage. Tadas Bučinskas converted two penalty throws and Granitas was awarded another with six seconds left on the clock.

This time Bučinskas stepped up and saw his penalty saved by the excellent goalkeeper Edmundas Peleda. Šviesa scraped a 28:27 win and increased their chances of qualifying to play-offs. Karolis Antanavičius scored 8 goals for the winners and Modestas Štarolis was on target 7 times for the losers.

Top scorer Kreicbergs says goodbye to Tenax in style

Group B weekend was also highlighted by the Estonia – Latvia match-up as two sides from Latvia travelled north to play two Estonian teams. Saturday became a very one-sided affair on both occasions. Viljandi HC could not stop Nils Kreicbergs from Tenax Dobele, who scored 14 goals to help his team to a 42:28 (21:10) win. Andrei Khapal scored 8 goals for Viljandi.

Kreicbergs was saying goodbye to Tenax on Sunday, as he moved to BHL champions Cocks the following day. And the Latvian international left-back did so in style, as by Sunday evening he tops the BHL goalscoring charts with 56 goals! Tenax overcame HC Tallinn on Sunday by 34:31 (18:18) with Oskars Arajs scoring 10 and Markus Viitkar 11 goals for the teams.

With this defeat Tallinn also lost the leadership of Group B, which they had cemented with a clear 41:32 (20:12) win on Saturday over Celtnieks Riga. Speed of attacks proved too much for the Latvians and left-winger Rauno Aus scored 7 goals for Tallinn, while Vladislav Koshman was on target 9 times for visitors.

Day later, the two losing teams of Saturday's encounters met in Viljandi and produced a very equal game. And this despite the fact Viljandi HC never had a lead in the match. The hosts fought well, but the last word belonged to 11-goal man of the match Artis Kurmens, whose strike gave Celtnieks their third win of the season by 31:30 (14:12). Sergei Rodjukov was Viljandi's best player with 8 goals.

On photo: Dragunas Klaipeda came from behind in two matches and took three points. Gabrielius Virbauskas scored 9 goals in total. (Photo: RK Dragunas).