National champions of Europe - Women part 4 - Balkans
All domestic leagues have come to an end and we now approach the draws of the 2016/17 European season. In six parts, the spotlight is shone on each of the national champions and their path to glory. The fourth part of the women's series consists of teams from the Balkans - Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia Herzegovina, Kosovo, FYR Macedonia, Romania and Bulgaria.
Double for Arandjelovac
The final showdown of the Serbian championship witnessed the local rivalry at its best. ZRK Ivor dominantly soared through the domestic play-off, and claimed both league and cup trophies from the hands of their bitter rivals – the injury depleted Radnicki Kragujevac.
Radnicki had the misfortune of losing their best scorer Andjela Janjusevic for the decisive part of the season, which greatly affected their performance.
However, the trophies were not the only things to move 40 kilometres north to the neighbouring city, as Arandjelovac-based club acquired the services of Radnicki’s biggest star and experienced former German international Milica Danilovic, at the beginning of the season.
League’s top penalty taker Danilovic showed no mercy against her former team, and with a series of impressive performances brought the famous double to Arandjelovac.
Buducnost reach the milestone with their 10th title
Despite failing to defend their Women’s EHF Champions League crown, Buducnost did what was expected of them domestically.
Dragan Adzic’s disciples recorded their milestone 10th league title, as well as a cup triumph to boot.
The Montenegrin champions trophy has not left Podgorica since the formation of the league, and by the looks of it, will not be leaving Moraca any time soon.
After the disappointing Women’s EHF FINAL4, Buducnost let their young starlets finish the job in the domestic competition.
And what a job they did, as former youth-level stars Djurdjina Malovic, Ema Ramusovic and Ivona Pavicevic down Levalea 32:9 aided by Neli Irman, to lift their first trophy with Buducnost, and one of many to come in the future, as the Cup glory soon followed.
Investment in youth paid dividends for Podravka
After bringing the trophy back to Koprivnica last term, Podravka Vegeta have defended the Croatian champions title.
Goran Mrdjen’s investment in youth paid dividends, as Podravka defended the title, despite losing their biggest names to transfers and injuries.
The team took a valiant effort, playing virtually without any backcourt rotation, after Selena Milosevic, Dora Krsnik and Ivana Dezic all succumbed to fatigue-induced injuries at the decisive time in the championship.
However, Mrdjen’s team stuck to the home-grown philosophy, as the youngsters brought continuation of success to Koprivnica.
Podravka have been able to keep most of the players at the club, which was the driving force behind their 22nd Croatian champions title.
Podravka maintained their reputation of being a hatchery of youth talent, and as their players become stars and leave, the younger generations ensure that success remains in Koprivnica.
Unblemished season for Grude
In a one-sided competition, which saw the title pretenders’ challenge vanish as early as mid-way through the season, Grude topped the Bosnian women’s rankings yet again, by defending the throne in a dominant fashion.
The title defence was secured with five games to go, following the 18-point gap from the runners-up Jedinstvo; which further prompted the long serving coach Zlata Zubac to rally the troops towards another extraordinary accomplishment.
The undefeated two-time champions celebrated the famous double and a perfect, unblemished season, without a single loss in both league and cup competitions.
Kosovo has a new champion
After three consecutive titles for Kastrioti from Ferizaj, Kosovo has a new champion. Last year’s semi-finalist Prishtina took steps up winning the championship after defeating Shqiponja in the play-off series.
The new champion was promoted after two matches in the final play-off series.
Last season champion, Kastrioti finished the season on the third position. The team faced difficulties with several injuries during the season and in addition two players transferred in the squad of Prishtina which at the end shifted them from the battle for the trophy and placed them on the third position.
This is second trophy for Prishtina in the season, as the team also managed to win the cup.
Red-black domination continues
While Vardar cannot surpass the third position in the Champions League, in the domestic championship the red-black squad maintains a clear hegemony.
Exactly as in the last two seasons, Vardar joined the championship in the play-off series and won all eight matches with high score victories.
The Montenegrin Jovanka Radicevic was outstanding in the play-off matches as the reigning EHF Champions League All-star right wing scored 17 goals against Vardar second team and 19 against Pelister in the match that ended 51:16 (27:9).
In the last match of the season, what was also a farewell for four leaving players – Siraba Dembele, Maja Sokac, Itana Grbic and Olga Chernoivanenko, Vardar faced the third placed team Metalurg and once again easily prevailed 34:28.
The Macedonian representatives in the Champions League also added a national cup trophy to their fourth league championship title..
Etar-64 take the trophy back to Veliko Tarnovo
After one season away from Veliko Tarnovo Etar-64 took the Bulgarian trophy to their city. With the victory over Svilengrad in the super final series, Etar-64 won the ninth title in the domestic championship.
The winner this year was decided in three matches. Etar-64 opened the final series with a convincing 31:26 win at home, after which the away defeat 30:28 followed.
However in the third match Etar-64 left no doubt about their win (31:22), which brought them the title in the domestic championship.
Consolation prize for the last year champion – Beki from Gabrovo was the trophy in the Bulgarian Cup, which ended in Etar-64’s hands last year.
Historic treble for CSM
Having brushed aside Vardar or Gyor in their attempt to win the Women’s EHF Champions League did not mean that CSM București had already won the “Liga Națională”.
But the Romanian powerhouse had little trouble to achieve a historic Treble, winning the European Premium competition, the Romanian title and the Romanian Cup.
While preparing for the Final 4 in Budapest, CSM had already received their gold medals for the Romanian National League, after losing only one game this season, a 30:28 defeat at the hands of HCM Baia Mare, in the last matchday of the season.
Baia Mare’s loss in March at the hands of Corona Brașov meant that CSM could be crowned champions with several games to spare, as Kim Rasmussen’s side had hardly any problems during the domestic season.
It was CSM’s second consecutive title in the Romanian League, as the reigning Champions League queens will enter the next season as overwhelming favourites for a “three-peat”, with a new coach on their bench, Jakob Vestergaard.