Different team, same goal in Budapest for 2021 MVP Reistad
Five years ago, Henny Reistad was starting to get noticed on the big stage. She secured the All-star left back position at the Women’s 19 EHF EURO 2017 with superb performances boosted by strong shooting, which ultimately became a trademark of her game.
Her huge potential was correctly identified by Vipers Kristiansand, who snapped Reistad on a transfer just a year later, adding the final piece of the puzzle which enabled the Norwegian side to win the EHF Champions League Women for the first time last season.
Of course, Reistad became an integrant part of that team. She scored 88 goals throughout the season, including 22 at the EHF FINAL4, on her way to earn the MVP award in Budapest last season.
In the past two years, the 23-year-old left back was named in the 2021 IHF Women’s World Championship All-star Team, the All-star young player of the EHF Champions League Women and the MVP of the Norwegian league for the 2020/21 season, while she won the EHF Champions League 2020/21 with Vipers and the Women’s EHF EURO 2020 and the 2021 IHF Women’s World Championship with Norway.
“The last seasons have been very good for me, I have been constantly progressing in all areas of my game and I am very happy with it,” Reistad says.
“However, there is also some added pressure to deliver, but I am enjoying handball quite a lot and I am feeling very good.”
A year later after delivering one of the most dominant performances in the history of the EHF FINAL4, Reistad returns to Budapest, albeit in the colours of another team. Moving for the first time outside of Norway, after signing for Danish side Team Esbjerg, was a challenge, a gamble for such a talented player that needs the proper environment to flourish.
In Esbjerg, Reistad found exactly that, added by the fact that the side already boasted five Norwegian players, four of which were in the national team alongside Reistad when the Scandinavian side secured the world title last December.
“It does help settling in nicely and I think, looking in retrospect, it was the best idea for me. Here, everything works out so well, we are a good team, a good group and trying to play good and fulfil our objectives,” adds the Norwegian back.
As a team with big ambitions, Esbjerg constantly improved in the last seasons, adding pieces of the puzzle on both sides of the ball. There are experienced players, young stalwarts, great shooters and tough to beat defenders, as coach Jesper Jensen assembled a superb squad.
In fact, this season has been the best for Esbjerg in the EHF Champions League Women, dropping a single game out of 16 played in order to seal their first participation in the EHF FINAL4. It marks the first presence of a Danish side in Budapest since the inaugural season of the current format in 2013/14.
Reistad has been an integrant part of the success, leading Esbjerg with 86 goals; 24 less than competition top scorer Cristina Neagu, and 10 less than former Vipers and future Esbjerg teammate Nora Mørk.
“We have constantly been getting better and better this season and we have found ways to win games and be here. It is a superb season in the Champions League, with some superb games and I cannot wait to start playing in Budapest once again,” says Reistad.
Györ are a great side, playing some amazing handball. It is a test for us, but we have the experience, and we know how difficult the EHF FINAL4 is, so we are motivated to win.
The 23-year-old Norwegian back already ranks 10th on the all-time list of goal scorers at the EHF FINAL4, with 30 goals from her two appearances, in 2019 and 2021. That leaves her still 27 goals short of the best mark shared by former Györ teammates Nycke Groot and Anita Görbicz.
Yet individual awards do not motivate Reistad as much as trophies. Her cabinet is already full after several superb seasons in the past years, but Esbjerg will be looking to bounce back from their midweek disappointment, when they lost the decisive match in the play-offs for the Danish league title against Odense Håndbold.
Tied at 1:1 after two matches, the decider took place in Odense on Tuesday, and while Esbjerg led by three goals in the second half, they ultimately lost 25:24.
This is why Reistad and Esbjerg will be looking to get back to winning ways in Budapest, to celebrate what has been a superb season, which saw the Danish side beat teams like CSM Bucuresti, FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria, Brest Bretagne Handball or Rostov-Don on their way to the EHF FINAL4.
The decisive test will be in the first semi-final on Saturday (live on EHFTV at 15:15 CEST) against Györi Audi ETO KC, the other team in the competition which dropped only a single game this season.
Györ won both games played against Esbjerg in the 2016/17 season, but the Danish side has drastically improved since.
“I do not want to minimise the other opponents, but I think we got the toughest draw. Like us, Györ won their group in the first part of the competition and they are a great side, playing some amazing handball,” Reistad says.
“It is a test for us, but we have the experience and we know how difficult the EHF FINAL4 is, so we are motivated to win.”