Jerabkova: “Winning the title in the last game would be the cherry on top”
Last season was the first one for Marketa Jerabkova in the EHF Champions League Women. But the Czech back left played a huge part in Vipers’ successful title-winning campaign, scoring 74 goals and being named the MVP of the EHF FINAL4 in Budapest.
The gears quickly changed, as opponents took notice of Jerabkova and starting paying more attention to her, yet the 27-year-old Czech star doubled down on her form and enjoyed the best season of her career in European competitions this time around.
Jerabkova is one of the only four players to have scored in triple digits this season – Henny Reistad, Cristina Neagu and Katrin Klujber being the other three – and her 106 goals helped Vipers get to the EHF FINAL4 once again.
Now, the Norwegian side, who are the reigning champions, can become only the second team in history after Györi Audi ETO KC to "three-peat" in the premium European competition.
Obviously, the challenge is big, especially as Vipers need to beat Györ to reach the final, but Jerabkova is full of confidence that the Norwegian side can seal their third title in a row.
“It has been a good season for us, we are getting more and more focused for the FINAL4, because it would be amazing to win the title for the third time in a row,” says Jerabkova, Vipers’ top goal scorer this season.
It has been an interesting season for the title holders, as plenty of new players came in, including right back Anna Vyakhireva, with the Norwegian side clicking instantly and the chemistry working like a charm immediately after the start of the season.
Vipers won their group and then proceeded to secure the largest margin of victory in the quarter-finals, against Romanian side Rapid, 71:56, totally outplaying their opponents.
Since the turn of the new year, Vipers have won all of the 27 games they played in all competitions, including a seven-game winning streak in the EHF Champions League Women, where they boast the best attack, with an average of 32.9 goals scored per game.
“There have been changes in the side, sure, but we have been getting better and better as the season progressed, so I think we are in with a chance in the EHF FINAL4. Of course, there are no favourites in Budapest, because, in my opinion, the top four sides in the competition this season have clinched their tickets,” adds Jerabkova.
The high standard set by the Norwegian powerhouse probably means that only a title in the EHF Champions League Women will be considered a success, yet their first game at the EHF FINAL4 in Budapest, the one against Györi Audi ETO KC, could well be their toughest test yet.
Vipers secured the title last season with a win against Györ, 33:31, therefore the Hungarian side will be eager to avenge that result. However, the pressure is on both sides: for Vipers as they aim to defend their crown, while Györ want to avoid another loss in front of plenty of their own fans.
“Like I told you, the teams which qualified here are the best in Europe right now. If we wanted to avoid Györ? Well, not necessarily, because we could have played against them in the final. No opponent is easy in such a tournament, so we will go there aiming to win against every opponent,” says the MVP of the EHF FINAL4.
With the domestic double completed, as Vipers won the Norwegian league and the Norwegian Cup, the games in Budapest will be Jerabkova’s last for Vipers, as the 27-year-old back has already signed for Ikast Handbold, the EHF European League winners.
It was a move that leaves a big hole for Vipers, which will see six players leaving the side this summer, plus coach Ole Gustav Gjekstad, who has led the team for the past five seasons. Undoubtedly, in terms of players, Jerabkova’s absence will leave a huge gap for Vipers.
Yet the Czech star is not thinking about the future just yet. The focus is clearly on the EHF FINAL4 in the first weekend of June, with Jerabkova clearly setting her eyes on the big prize, which would see her make an exit in style.
“I have developed so much at Vipers, I really owe a lot to this club. In the team, the atmosphere is excellent, everybody works for the same goals, we give everything to produce good results. Therefore, I will miss it a lot, but I think it was the right time to make this decision.”
“Winning the title in the Champions League in my last game for Vipers? That would definitely be the cherry on top, an excellent performance which would make me very, very happy,” concludes Jerabkova.