Top centre backs and line players in race for EHF Excellence Awards

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EHF / Danijela Vekić

The EHF Excellence Awards were introduced at the beginning of the 30th anniversary of the European Handball Federation to honour the best players from each position who make handball matches unforgettable.

Based on different criteria throughout the 2022/23 season, the players selected for the award are waiting for your vote in the Home of Handball app. The vote for the female players is open from 15 until 25 May.

The members of the All-star Team at the Women's EHF EURO 2022 were fixed nominations, one spot is for a star of the EHF European League Women, while other players have secured their nominations thanks to great work with their national teams, or have been members of the Teams of the Week in the EHF Champions League Women.

After getting to know goalkeepers and defenders who got into the spotlight this season, it is time to introduce the best centre backs and line players.

Centre back

Daria Dmitrieva – Russia/Krim Mercator Ljubljana

  • nominated for the award after great performances with Krim Mercator in the EHF Champions League Women, earning a place in the Team of the Week three times - in round 10 she netted 12 goals against SG BBM Bietigheim, in round 12 ten more against EHF FINAL4 2023 participants FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria and in the first leg of the playoffs she found her way onto the list as the best defender
  • the 27-year-old Russian was Krim's crucial player for the game leading them to the play-offs of the EHF Champions League, where they unfortunately were eliminated by CS Rapid Bucuresti by only one goal on aggregate (54:53)
  • Dimitrieva is not only Krim's second-best top scorer, but she is also ranked third in the competition by number of assists (75)

Alina Grijseels – Germany/BV Borussia 09 Dortmund

  • Grijseels was integral to BVB's success in the EHF European League Women, winning the bronze medal at the EHF Finals Women 2023 held in Graz. The German centre back had the x-factor for the team, according to the coaches in Europe's second-tier
  • the 27-year-old, joining Metz Handball from the next season, worked her magic together with left back Dana Bleckmann, scoring 40 goals with 32 assists in the EHF European League, having her best day at the office in the quarter-final second leg match against Les Neptunes de Nantes - her nine goals helped overcome a nine-goal deficit from the first leg and progress to Graz
  • she was also Germany's top scorer at the Women's EHF EURO 2022 - Grijseels scored 44 goals, finishing in seventh place among 16 teams

Markéta Jerábková – Czech Republic/Vipers Kristiansand

  • the Czech excellency played 15 out of 16 matches this season, continuing on the same path she started last season. The MVP of the 2021/22 EHF FINAL4 once again was crucial for Vipers' game, netting 106 goals, making it 7 goals per game on average
  • Jerábková's ease of play, movement on the court and execution earned her a spot in the Team of the Week in round 6 and round 13 of the group phase when she scored 11 against CSM Bucuresti and added another eight against Krim Mercator
  • the centre back also has 35 assists in the EHF Champions League Women while helping her national team to earn a spot at the IHF Women's World Championship with 18 goals in two games against Switzerland

Stine Oftedal – Norway/Györi Audi ETO KC

  • handball royalty Oftedal might not have found herself in the Team of the Week of the EHF Champions League this season, but her impact on Györ is unquestionable - 15 games, 59 assists and 55 goals strong ahead of the EHF FINAL4 in Budapest
  • four times the best centre back of Europe's top flight, her main focus this campaign was at the Women's EHF EURO 2022; winning a gold medal with Norway and being named All-star Team centre back at the EURO for the third time running
  • Oftedal scored 33 times for Norway in eight matches, going all the way to the top as their third-best scorer

Elizabeth Omoregie – Slovenia/CSM Bucuresti

  • Elizabeth Omoregie was one of four offensive strengths for CSM Bucuresti this season before they were stopped by Team Esbjerg in the quarter-finals of the EHF Champions League - nevertheless, she netted 11 times in these two games
  • The 26-year-old centre back scored 63 times in the EHF Champions League and gave her additional help with 37 assists
  • in 2019, Omoregie obtained Slovenian citizenship and became a vital part of the national team - at the Women's EHF EURO 2022 in Slovenia, she was an important link on the court as the co-hosts were fighting to get to the final weekend, scoring 18 times but finishing eight in the end

Henny Reistad – Norway/Team Esbjerg

  • the recordholder of the season with seven places in the Team of the Week - round 2, 3, 7, 8, and 11, the second leg of the quarter-finals, and best defender of round 3; it was almost impossible to watch an Esbjerg game without her being at the top
  • at 24 still early in her career, the centre back is the current top scorer with 130 goals (23 from fast breaks) while giving 55 assists to her teammates at Esbjerg and leading them to the EHF FINAL4
  • Reistad was a fixed nominee following her MVP award at the Women's EHF EURO 2022 based on her all-round performance with Norway, winning gold after 46 goals, 26 assists and a strong defensive display

Grace Zaadi Deuna – France/CSM Bucuresti

  • together with Elizabeth Omoregie, Zaadi was paving the way for CSM Bucuresti as the stronghold of the back court line in her first year in the Romanian capital
  • was part of the Team of the Week in round 1 after her nine goals against Krim Mercator - throughout the season she added 34 more to her tally, plus an amazing 63 assists
  • Zaadi was also part of the France national team at the Women's EHF EURO 2022. Even though France left empty-handed, finishing fourth, Zaadi netted 21 times in an attempt to help her team to get their fifth EURO medal

Expert's view: Centre backs are the spine of the team, always being one of the most prolific and experienced players. The reading of the game, their opponents' moves and calling the actions, centre backs try to maximise the chance of scoring while providing an important role in defence also. All seven nominees were pieces of the puzzle in their team's success with two Norwegian women, Reistad and Oftedal, leading the way.

Line player

Maren Aardahl – Norway/Odense Håndbold

  • Aardahl made the Team of the Week in the EHF Champions League twice, in round 7 and 11, when she had two great performances against Krim Mercator (six goals) and CSM Bucuresti (eight)
  • the Norwegian line player had 66 goals at 69.5 per cent efficiency in a total in 18 matches, getting to the quarter-finals where Odense was eliminated by Györi Audi ETO KC
  • the great season with Odense was not the only goal Aardahl reached this season: she also sat on the European throne with Norway, contributing 13 goals to their succes

Linn Blohm – Sweden/Györi Audi ETO KC

  • Györ's third top scorer was part of the Team of the Week in round 2 of the EHF Champions League Women group phase; without a miss, she managed to score eight against Kastamonu Belediyesi helping her team to score the biggest win of the season
  • the fighting spirit and ease of scoring helped Blohm to net 48 goals in the top-tier competition before securing a place at the EHF FINAL4, with 11 successful fast breaks after her All-star Team award in the 2021/22 season
  • without a doubt, Blohm was also the key player of the national team at the recent Women's EHF EURO 2022 as she finished the tournament with 26 goals

Sarah Bouktit – France/Metz Handball

  • Metz were maybe left disappointed after being eliminated in the quarter-finals against FTC, but Sarah Bouktit can be proud of her performance: four Team of the Week nominations (round 1, 13, and 14, and best defender of round 10)
  • Bouktit is among the top four line players in the EHF Champions League Women, having scored 63 goals
  • her numbers also consist of nine blocks and more than 10 steals - numbers that are just confirming her role in Metz rows and her being a hard nut to crack while eying the goal behind her

Asma Elghaoui – Tunisia/SCM Ramnicu Valcea

  • Elghaoui and Iryna Glibko were leading SCM Ramnicu Valcea in the EHF European League Women with the line players having important roles in both ways
  • experienced Elghaoui had her tally at 49 goals this season, 15 of these coming from a fast break; in defence, she was also slick in steals
  • her best performance of the season were nine goals against Praktiker-Vác in the 40:30 win, and 11 netted against Thüringer HC

Pauletta Foppa – France/Brest Bretagne Handball

  • Foppa was also a fixed nominee for the award after her brilliance performance at the Women's EHF EURO 2022, earning her a spot in the All-star Team - she was also in the All-star Team of the Champions League 2020/21, the 2020 Olympics, and the 2021 World Championship
  • Foppa scored 23 goals for France at the EURO and had an average of 10 steals per game, a vital part of the team's effort despite ending in fourth place after a huge battle against Montenegro
  • in the EHF Champions League, Foppa is her side's fourth top scorer, netting 34 times but also doing the line dance making the opponents sweat as she managed to steal 10 balls and have eight blocks

Vilde Ingstad – Norway/Team Esbjerg

  • 28-year-old line player had an astonishing cooperation with centre back Henny Reistad in the first leg of the play-offs against Brest, netting six times out of six attempts which earned her a spot in the Team of the Week
  • her season's tally is at 66 goals which makes her one of the top three most efficient line players in the competition
  • the workflow on the court from Esbjerg was transmitted to Norway's national team also - Ingstad installed her 31 goals in the gold medal they won in Ljubljana at the Women's EHF EURO 2022

Crina Pintea – Romania/CSM Bucuresti

  • the experienced line player marked her return to CSM Bucuresti after a year at Györ with top performances, earning her spot in the Team of the Week in round 3 (six goals against SG BBM Bietigheim) and round 8 (six goals against FTC)
  • the All-star Team member of the Champions League 2018/19 season has been the motor of the attack when the rest of the positions were blocked away from scoring
  • alongside her teammate Cristina Neagu, she was also crucial for the Romanian attack at the Women's EHF EURO 2022, scoring 22 times at 82 per cent efficiency

Expert's view: The work of the line players and centre backs can really look like something magical, and the line players, even sometimes underestimated, are the main link for the game flow. Opening of the space, movement and spins on the line, both in the attack and defence, make them the biggest figures on the court. Sarah Bouktit's top performance with Metz experienced Pintea and star-rising Pauletta Foppa have caught the eyes of the public.

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