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08.11.2016, 15:34◄ last page     

NEWS REPORT: Celje’s right wing and Team Esbjerg’s right back have been rewarded for their outstanding performances with their clubs on international level in October.

Left-handers shine as Janc and Van der Heijden earn EHF Players of the Month awards

With many eye-catching matches in the VELUX EHF Champions League, and the Women’s EHF Champions League starting its group matches, last month has been a feast of European club handball.

A panel of EHF correspondents across Europe have now voted for their EHF Players of the Month for October 2016. On the men’s side the honours go to talented Celje right wing Blaz Janc of Slovenia, while Team Esbjerg right back Laura van der Heijden has won the women’s election in the Dutch player’s first ever Champions League season.

Janc: “To be in the focus among all these great players is amazing”

Regarded as one of the biggest talents handball in Slovenia has ever seen, Blaz Janc fully lived up to his billing last month.

Already playing in his fifth season, the 19-year-old Celje right wing repeatedly demonstrated his outstanding skills in the Champions League.

He scored seven goals in the away game against defending champions Kielce on 15 October, and netted nine to earn Celje a draw at Kristianstad the following week.

“Of course it means a lot,” Janc says about being chosen EHF Player of the Month. “The Champions League is the top handball competition and to be in the focus among all those great players is amazing. And I am even more happy to help my team with my performances.”

With one win and a draw, Celje are on three points after five rounds in Group B, but the team also pushed German powerhouse Rhein-Neckar Löwen to their limits with just a one-goal defeat.

“It was not an easy month for Celje trying to keep the pace in Europe and in the region,” Janc says. “Playing EHF Champions League and SEHA League is a new, different experience, and it takes more energy to play and to travel.”

“In the Champions League we did well against giants like Rhein-Neckar, Vardar, and Kielce, but it was more important that we won against Zagreb and took a point in Sweden against our direct rivals for a spot in the Last 16.”

Janc’s consistent performances have put him in the spotlights with many big clubs in European handball, but the Slovenian will not get distracted by all the attention.

“I don’t see the interest as pressure. I just see it as proof that I’m on the right track, and that hard work will pay off some day,” says Janc, who will turn 20 on 20 November.

“It feels good of course that some top clubs show interest, but now I take it as a motivating factor to keep improving. I have to keep my head cool and just focus on each game. But of course it is a dream to play for a top club someday.”

Janc has not been the only young player to shine in Europe last month as three out of the men’s short list are only 24 or younger.

EHF Players of the Month – October 2016: Male
1. Blaz Janc (SLO) – Celje Pivovarna Lasko
2. Filip Ivic (CRO) – Vive Tauron Kielce
3. Nedim Remili (FRA) – Paris Saint-Germain Handball
4. Nikola Karabatic (FRA) – Paris Saint-Germain Handball
5. Wael Jallouz (TUN) – FC Barcelona Lassa & Jakub Hrstka (CZE) – Tatran Presov

Van der Heijden: “It is a true honour to be picked out as the best player”

Looking for the perfect example of a ‘dream debut’? Just see what Laura van der Heijden and her Team Esbjerg have done in the Women’s Champions League in October.

Winning the Danish league title last season earned the team their first-ever berth for the competition. And Van der Heijden admits she had no clue of what would be awaiting her.

“Beforehand I had no idea what we could expect. We just made sure we prepared ourselves well for (the first match against) Krim. But we didn’t expect it would work out so well,” the Dutch right back says.

Van der Heijden scored 11 times on her Champions League debut as Team Esbjerg clinched a resounding 35:25 win. And they followed up the next week by winning 25:20 at Sävehof thanks to nine Van der Heijden goals.

No wonder her achievements have now been rewarded with the EHF Players of the Month award.

“This is a true honour. The first target always is to win matches with your team but being picked out as the best player makes it only nicer,” says Van der Heijden, who is in her third season with Esbjerg.

“Those first two matches were such a beautiful experience. Everything was new and exciting. And to start it this way was obviously perfect for us. We want to get to the main round and take as much points as possible with us.”

Esbjerg lost their next two games in the incredibly tight Group D, where all teams are level on four points after four rounds.

“It is so hard to predict how far we can go,” Van der Heijden says. “Also in the other groups you see that each team can beat the other teams. You just don’t know.”

Van der Heijden played four seasons for Oldenburg in Germany before moving to Esbjerg in 2014. The experience from both countries have helped her to become the star player she is nowadays.

“Both are very good leagues to play in. In Denmark, handball is more about pace and tactics. In Germany, physical strength is key. Both are good but in different ways. I think it is great I experienced both styles. For me it is good to have that strength and the pace as I am not very tall.”

Apart from securing the main-round berth with Esbjerg, Van der Heijden has a whole different challenge coming up with the Dutch national team, as the EHF EURO 2016 starts in less than a month.

“We play two matches a week with Esbjerg so I don’t have much time to think about it,” Van der Heijden says. “But of course Estavana (Polman) and I are already talking about it. After our success last year (winning silver at the IHF World Championship) we want to go as far as possible again.”

EHF Players of the Month – October 2016: Female
1. Laura van der Heijden (NED) – Team Esbjerg
2. Andrea Penezic (CRO) – HC Vardar
3. Nora Mørk (NOR) – Györi Audi ETO KC
4. Eduarda Amorim (BRA) – Györi Audi ETO KC
5. Aneta Benko (CRO) – RK Krim Mercator

TEXT: Eric Willemsen, Uros Volk / br

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