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EHF Champions League

This is me: Ana Gros

No one netted more times in women's international club handball last season: meet Ana Gros, the Slovenian back with the deadly shot who became DELO EHF Champions League top scorer in 2020/21. Helped Brest Bretagne Handball all the way to the Champions League final in 2021, and hopes to repeat the feat with CSKA in 2022. Read the story of Ana Gros' career – in her own words.

This is Me: Ana Gros

I’m so happy and grateful I can call handball my job. To be able to do what I love. This is a privilege for me. However, when I was young, handball wasn’t my first choice.

My father was a volleyball player and I really wanted to play it too. Since I was little girl, I went to training with him and spent a lot of time in the venue.

In my hometown Velenje, we didn’t have a women’s volleyball club. So, my father gave me idea to try handball. It was a popular sport in Velenje and Slovenia. One day, I talked with my best friend to start together and that’s where my handball path started.

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From the moment I stepped on that court and grabbed a ball, I felt love for this sport. I believed in myself and had a feeling I have talent. Handball made my happy. Every day I was waiting for school to be over to go to training.

As I’m left-handed, from the start coaches were giving me support and advice. It is known there are not a big number of left-handed players. That gave me additional wind in a wing position at the beginning. My coach Snežana Rodič made a really big impression on me. She was a great coach and I can say that everything started because of her.

From Velenje I transferred to the Krim academy. One moment from that period will stay in my mind forever. At the age of 14 I had my debut for Krim’s senior team. At the time Krim had many stars, and they needed domestic players for the Slovenian league. One day, I got a call after school to come to the venue in the evening to play a match.

I remember coming to the venue among those stars and warming up with Katya Nyberg – one of the best left backs. It was like a dream. Then, I didn’t have my jersey for the match and Nataliya (Nataša) Derepasko gave me hers. I played the whole match with ‘Derepasko’ on my back. She was one of the biggest handball stars, not only in Krim or Slovenia, but in the world at the time. That was such a big honour for me, for a young Ana dreaming of becoming a great player. I will cherish these memories forever. Just imagine: Young girl comes to Krim academy and already at the beginning of the season she plays alongside the biggest stars. A few years later, in Krim, I got to play my first EHF Champions League season.

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Time in Krim came to an end when I was 19. I got a call from Győr. Of course, part of me wanted to stay in Krim, I just have started and still needed a lot of experience to progress. However, when it’s Győr looking at you, it’s hard to say no. I was at a crossroads and my family was fully supportive. They were saying: “Go, don’t think about it at all, this is your chance” they were all rooting for me to join Győr. I was, let’s say, scared – but in the end my inner voice decided to go. And I’ve never regretted that decision.

My family is my biggest support to this day. My mom, dad, sisters, brother, my parents’ new partners, as my parents got divorced when I was young, and my best friends. They are my big family and most important people in my life. 

It’s them I miss the most when living abroad. And of course, home cooking. My mom’s kitchen, soups and flavours of home… that can’t be compensated. We talk every day, we are in touch, and we are visiting as much as we can, it’s not the same when you don’t see them on daily basis. I have younger sisters and brother, and they grew up without me witnessing it. I have missed many birthdays and celebrations. That’s the setback. But when you know you have their love, trust and their back, you keep pushing for them.

I had a difficult time when I played in Thüringer. I was at the bottom, let’s say. I didn’t play enough; the coach didn’t have much trust in me and it was really difficult for me. I didn’t have a pleasure and joy when going to the trainings. It was time when I asked myself am I still good enough, should I continue, it this worth of not being home? Then, the French period of my life came. Today, I’m here because of it.

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Metz was the crucial point for my career as I finally got back on track. Metz took me, gave me an opportunity to play as I can and I rise again. I learned many new thing, both as a person and as a player. I’m grateful for that time in Metz. That feeling was continued in Brest too. I really felt like at home in France. The people, the culture, everything fitted me. That’s why I will forever be thankful to everyone I met in France.

CSKA came as my next step in career. I really hoped I could get my wish to come true of winning the EHF Champions League. Maybe even this season. Even though there are some favourites, like Győr, the season so far showed that everyone can beat everyone. We need to go step by step and dream big. Of course, the Russian Cup and Championship is another goal I’ve set my eyes on, but EHF Champions League would be a big thing for me.

My first Champions League final was with Győr, we played two matches for the title. I was young, just 20 years old and didn’t play at all in those matches, but I was proud just to be part of that. Nevertheless, I felt bad when we lost to Budućnost, as we lost by only one goal. The last EHF FINAL4 final I played was with Brest last year. It’s still hard to explain how I felt at all. In the semi-finals we had an unbelievable match against Győr. It ended 23:23 and we secured our spot in the final after a penalty shootout. That match was already somewhat of the finals for us.

We just couldn’t find additional strength or the energy in the final against Vipers. That was the most difficult loss in my whole career. For days I was sad and it took me a while to forget about it. I’m thankful we got few days off after that match. I spent time with my family and friends and they helped me a lot and put a smile to my face. I hope I will get my hands on the trophy one day.

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I am usually a very positive and outgoing person. I laugh, I sing, I joke, I’m different. That’s in my nature. At the same time I can be stubborn. I love to be surrounded with people who are like that too. I’m also very emotional and everything gets me. Sometimes, those emotions can be overwhelming, but at the same time they are giving me strength to carry on. My emotions transform into persistence and they are very important part of me. That is important in tough moments I had and still have during my career. But I keep saying to myself, this is a privilege. I’m a very religious person, I do believe God gave me opportunity and health to do what I love.

And handball is not only about club competitions and trophies. It’s about playing for your country and in the major competitions, proudly wearing that jersey.

Slovenia is a small country and we don’t have big number of players like some other European countries and that’s why we still miss bigger success. There are young players whose time is yet to come. Nevertheless, our national team is still fighting and hoping for a good result. Our main focus right know is EHF EURO 2022. We are one of the hosts and it will be a big event for all of us. I can’t wait to play for my country in front of our fans, to lead them as team captain. Success doesn’t come over night, but we have a heart and love for this.

Topscorer 2021 (2)

Younger generations are different than what we used to be like growing up. It’s normal in one way. But I hope they still value our advices and experience which we try to pass on them. I always took advice when I was younger. That’s why I’m giving my best to help everyone coming to national team. I feel honoured when they ask me for advice.

One of my (non-handball) pieces of advice for every player is: Don’t leave your education behind. You have to pursue it with your career no matter how long it takes. You never know what will happen in your life and you must have a plan B. And you must do something after your career ends. I’m near to graduating at Faculty of Tourism in Slovenia and that was one of my goals from the start. That was one of values inherited from my family.

I don’t have clear vision what I want to do after career but having a degree can make it a lot easier. Of course, I will never leave handball, it will be forever part of me. I can see myself maybe working with children and younger generations alongside my day job in tourism, let’s say.

I still have much to give on the court and I want to play as long as I can on top level. I will be on a hunt for those missing trophies in next four to five years and, most importantly, enjoying my job.

 

Ana Gros
January 2022

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