17th August 2018
Newly promoted Loughborough University are determined to make their mark in their first season in the Women’s Premier Handball League, where they will face different challenges to the rest of the clubs in the league.
As a student club they have a high turnover of players, but last season’s assistant coach Alexander Themis told me that was simply part of the challenge. “Our turnaround is so constant each year. The ladies that did manage to get promoted this year, most of them won’t be in our club, so we’re dealing with new students. … Of the current squad, probably only one or two people have a handball background.”
The university calendar also presents challenges. “We’ve got preseason set up for the 17 September, but the league starts before that! We’re trying to rearrange the games already.”
Alexander says they mitigate the high turnover of players by forward planning, and a focus on coaching. “We’re trying to be hands on, and as organised as possible, and get the ladies training. We’ve also made a conscious effort to get our coaches Level 2 trained. We have four Level 2 coaches now: one who will be taking care of the women’s performance team, the other is going to be our head coach for the handball club and the other two will be investing their time in our outreach programmes. We’re really hands on.”
Being a university club team also has its advantages. Loughborough University has topped the overall British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) league table every year since 1979. Despite handball not being a sport that contributes to the BUCS table, Alexander says the club benefits from the sporting culture at the University. “The athletes and the volunteers have put so much effort into our training that we will be the best we can be. There’s an identity at Loughborough University and a culture that says be the best you can be, and it’s where history begins, so we aspire to be the best. Whatever the results of the upcoming season, being in the Premier League is a massive achievement for us; complementing the efforts we put, in our outreach work, our recreational programmes and wanting to grow the sport at junior levels.”
Loughborough University women have enjoyed stunning success in recent seasons. In 2018 they won the University Cup, as well as the second-tier University Plate, and were runners up in the National Shield.
Loughborough University perform strongly across both genders, with the men being 2017 University Cup champions, and 2018 semi-finalists in the National Shield.
The club is ready to take their place in the top tier of England handball, and will leave no effort on the sidelines. “Whatever we’ve got we’ll always do our best, because that’s the culture here.”