Annika Lott lets Thüringer HC thrive
Annika Lott is on fire. The 23-year-old back court player is “the rising star in Germany’s women’s handball,” as national team coach Markus Gaugisch puts it. “She is worth gold for our team,” adds Herbert Müller, her club coach at Thüringer HC – which hope to beat Sola HK in their EHF European League Women quarter-final on Sunday.
And Lott herself? She lets her goals do the talking on court. Netting 10 times, she was once again the best scorer for Thüringer HC in the first leg against Sola in Norway last Sunday.
The matches ended in a 35:35 draw after what seemed a roller-coaster ride for both teams.
“Thinking about how we started, this is a perfect result. I think we had forgotten our defence on the plane from Germany to Norway in the first 11 minutes,” Lott said.
Sola led by 11:3 before Lott led a strong comeback from THC, which culminated in a three-goal lead halfway through the second half.
However, Sola regained the initiative again and went 35:32 up with a few minutes left, before THC scored the last three goals.
“This result enables us to continue dreaming of the EHF Finals in Graz. We start at 0:0 again, and with our fans backing us on home ground, I am sure we can make it,” Lott said.
Playing the EHF Finals would be the highlight of the season for THC, though the team is only three points below defending champions SG BBM Bietigheim in German Bundesliga.
“They are a class of their own; for us, it is more important to consolidate the second place. Currently, we are eight points ahead of Dortmund, which looks quite good,” said Lott, who is top scorer of Thüringer HC in all competitions.
Born in the suburbs of Hamburg, she first joined the junior team of Bayer Leverkusen, became German under-20 champion, and was part of all YAC national teams.
In 2018, Lott went northward again to join Buxtehuder SV for four seasons, before she moved to THC last summer.
“I wanted to play on the international stage, and I was looking for a new challenge at a club with ambitious goals. And to join Thüringer HC was absolutely the right decision,” she said.
Lott’s career was on the edge after she underwent shoulder surgery two years ago, bringing her “close to quitting handball.”
“But suddenly all the pain disappeared and I could restart my engines,” said Lott, who has scored 60 times in seven matches since the start of the group phase in the EHF European League. In the Bundesliga she has raised her tally in 16 matches to 102 goals.
Half a year ago, few would have predicted that THC were on the brink of the EHF Finals now. They started their campaign in the first qualification round.
“We were far away from dreaming of the group phase, as we had to face really strong opponents: Chambray from France and Sävehof from Sweden,” Lott recalled.
It is funny in handball: everybody tells you that defence wins matches, but in the end, everybody only looks onto the scorer list. Handball is a team sport, and it is not about my goals. I love to create chances for my teammates, to cooperate with wings and line players.
But with a rebuilt team including nine new arrivals, THC won al four matches in the qualification to enter the group phase, where teams like Paris 92 and SCM Ramnicu Valcea looked like potentila stumble blocks.
However, THC were among the first teams to secure their place in the quarter-finals.
“It was really incredible, surprising, outstanding… I cannot find the right words for how we currently play in all competitions,” Lott said.
“We all have fun, we are successful, and we have a great environment to improve. I love playing handball, and I cannot get enough of it. Having all those weeks with two matches in Bundesliga and the European League were simply a pleasure for me. I live for handball, and this is why it works that well.”
In general, Lott does not like to be rated only by her number of goals.
“It is funny in handball: everybody tells you that defence wins matches, but in the end, everybody only looks onto the scorer list,” she said. “Handball is a team sport, and it is not about my goals. I love to create chances for my teammates, to cooperate with wings and line players. This is what handball means for me, not only scoring goals.”
Initially a classic left back, Lott now switches from to centre and even to right back as well. That versatility earned her a call-up from national team coach Markus Gaugisch. In March, Lott returned to the national team as a shooting playmaker.
“It was really fun to be back. It was so easy to step into the team, and I love wearing the German jersey,” said Lott, who was part of the German squad for the Women’s EHF EURO 2020 before being ruled out because of her shoulder injury.
Besides playing handball, Lott studies law and is a remote student assistant at the Police Academy in Hamburg.
But for now, the focus fully is on Sola and the return game next Sunday (live on EHFTV at 14:00 CEST), with a ticket to the EHF Finals Women 2023 in Graz at stake.
“Herbert Müller is our Austrian head coach, Sonja Frey is an Austrian national team player, so maybe some Austrian fans will come and support us there,” Lott said. “But first, we have to make it to this event, then we can see how far we will come.”
Success in the EHF European League might bring Lott closer to fulfilling her career dream.
“I want to play Champions League, this was one of the reasons for my transfer,” Lott said. “Gaining international experience in the European League is great for a young player like me, but the Champions League would be a much bigger stage.”
photos courtesy of Hans Lie Photography & others