20230517 EE Defender And GK Darleux
EHF Champions League

Seven goalkeepers and seven defenders vie for EHF Excellence Awards

20221106 AH 3577 2
EHF / Adrian Costeiu

The newly introduced EHF Excellence Awards will honour the best players in each position on the court, plus the best defender, in both men’s and women’s handball for the previous season.

The players selected in the final ballot were shortlisted via several criteria. First, the performances in the EHF Champions League Women, where a team of the round was named at the end of each week, with the top three players from each position who have received the most nominations by the end of the quarter-finals making the list.

The members of the All-star Team at the EHF EURO 2022 were all nominated, while additional players who performed in the EHF European League (one per position), as well as EHF EURO Qualifiers and national team matches (maximum three per position) are also on the shortlist.

Players, coaches, selected media as well as fans are eligible to participate with each group’s votes accounting for 25 per cent of the overall result for every position. The vote for the female players will run from 15-25 May and voting is open on the Home of Handball app.

But who are the nominees for the best goalkeeper and the best defender at the EHF Excellence Awards 2023? Let’s take a look!


Cleopatre Darleux – France/Brest Bretagne Handball

  • nominated for the award after an excellent performance in the Match of the Week in round 3 of the Champions League, against FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria, where she saved 21 shots (51 per cent efficiency), one of the best individual performances in the competition
  • due to injury, Darleux only featured in 11 games in the European premium competition, but had 106 saves, or 9.6 saves per match, for an average saving efficiency of 33 per cent
  • she was also outstanding for France at the EHF EURO 2022, making the All-star Team as the goalkeeper with the second-largest number of saves, 67, and the second-highest save efficiency, 37 per cent

Katrine Lunde - Norway/Vipers Kristiansand

  • Lunde made the Team of the Week three times in the Champions League this season: in round 1, with 16 saves and a 38 per cent saving efficiency against Brest Bretagne Handball; in round 12, with 12 saves and a 32 per cent saving efficiency against FTC; and in the second leg of the quarter-finals, when she had 15 saves and a 39.4 per cent saving efficiency against Rapid
  • over the course of the season, Lunde made the second largest number of saves in the Champions League, 170, for a 33.1 per cent saving efficiency throughout the competition as Vipers Kristiansand reached the EHF FINAL4 for a third time in a row
  • a three-time All-star goalkeeper at the EHF EURO, Lunde won gold once again at the EHF EURO 2022, with 43 saves and a 31 per cent saving efficiency

Tea Pijevic - Croatia/Alba Fehervar KC

  • the only player to have not played in European competitions at club level from this list, Pijevic earned her spot in the nominees list through excellent matches played for the national team
  • at the EHF EURO 2022, Pijevic made 56 saves for Croatia for a 35 per cent saving efficiency, ranking fourth in both number of saves and saving efficiency in the competition
  • Pijevic also helped Croatia seal a place in the 2023 IHF Women’s World Championship, saving 15 shots in the double-header against Slovakia in the play-offs, for a 35 per cent saving efficiency

Silje Solberg - Norway/Györi Audi ETO KC

  • only Katrine Lunde had more nominations for the Team of the Week than fellow Norwegian goalkeeper Silje Solberg, who was the best goalkeeper against Storhamar Handball Elite (eight saves for 47 per cent), CS Rapid Bucuresti (14 saves for 31 per cent) and HC Lokomotiva Zagreb (15 saves for 50 per cent)
  • sharing duties with Sandra Toft in Györ’s goal, Solberg had 102 saves in 12 matches this season in the European premium competition, with an efficiency close to 40 per cent
  • the 32-year-old became an European champion for the fourth time at the EHF EURO 2022, where she made 62 saves and was the goalkeeper with the biggest saving percentage, 39 per cent

Melinda Szikora - Hungary/SG BBM Bietigheim

  • Szikora made the Team of the Week in the European top competition twice, in rounds 2 and 4, when she had outstanding performances for SG BBM Bietigheim; first with 20 saves against FTC for a 50 per cent saving efficiency, and then with 13 saves for 44 per cent against Vipers Kristiansand
  • Szikora had 113 saves (31.3 per cent) in the Champions League in 13 matches, and was a key reason for Bietigheim’s excellent start in the competition
  • the goalkeeper also represented Hungary at the EHF EURO 2022, where she had 35 saves for a 25 per cent saving efficiency

Yara ten Holte - Netherlands/BV Borussia 09 Dortmund

  • no player had more saves in the EHF European League Women than Yara ten Holte this season, with the Dutch shot stopper making 140 saves over 12 matches, an average of 11.6 per match, or a save efficiency of 37.7 per cent
  • ten Holte helped Dortmund seal the bronze medal in the EHF Finals Women, with a monster of a performance in the game against Thüringer HC, where she had 24 saves for a 53.3 per cent saving efficiency, while also scoring two goals
  • the Dutch shot-stopper also featured for her national team at the EHF EURO 2022, boasting the fourth-largest number of saves, 58, for a 29 per cent saving efficiency

Sandra Toft – Denmark/Györi Audi ETO KC

  • Toft was key for Denmark at the EHF EURO 2022, where she had the largest number of saves in the competition, 68 (33 per cent efficiency) and lifted the Scandinavian side to their first medal in the competition since 2004
  • the Danish shot-stopper rotated with teammate Silje Solberg for Györ, saving 97 shots for a 31.8 per cent saving efficiency throughout the season so far in the Champions League
  • her consistency and leadership were next to none, as she slotted in immediately in new surroundings and reached the EHF FINAL4 in Budapest in her first season for the Hungarian powerhouse

Expert's view:

This position usually brings the most scrutiny, therefore numbers are crucial, but the quality of the saves – especially one-on-one saves - is also very important. The seven nominees have truly been decisive for their teams, in all competitions they played in, and it is no surprise that players like Katrine Lunde or Silje Solberg, who featured in the last act of the EHF FINAL4 and also won the gold medal at the EHF EURO 2022, are between the nominees.

Best defender

Emilie Arntzen – Norway/CSM Bucuresti

  • Arntzen made the Team of the Week as the best defender in round 2 of the Champions League group phase this season, in an excellent performance against Brest Bretagne Handball, when CSM won 33:26
  • the Norwegian back was a key cog for CSM’s season in the European premium competition, making the fourth-largest number of blocks, nine, this season
  • Arntzen also played for Norway at the EHF EURO 2022, securing her fourth gold medal in the competition

Tatjana Brnovic - Montenegro/Brest Bretagne Handball

  • the Montenegrin line player made the Team of the Week in the second leg of the play-offs, when Brest were eliminated by Team Esbjerg
  • Brnovic was also an integral part of Montenegro’s defence at the EHF EURO 2022 as they took bronze
  • at the EHF EURO 2022, Brnovic made six blocks and had two steals, making her the leader of Montenegro’s defensive line

Kelly Dulfer - Netherlands/SG BBM Bietigheim

  • already recognised as one of the top defenders in European handball, being the All-star defender at the EHF EURO 2018, Dulfer made the Team of the Week in the Champions League three times, in rounds 3, 9 and 13
  • the left back made the third largest number of blocks in the European premium competition, 13 in 14 matches for Bietigheim
  • Dulfer was also the key member of the Netherlands’ defence at the EHF EURO, blocking four shots and registering eight steals to rank third in the standings for the best defender in the competition

Beatrice Edwige - France/FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria

  • Edwige was instrumental in helping FTC seal their first-ever berth for the EHF FINAL4, especially in defence, which has always been her expertise both for club and country
  • the line player, who sees limited amount of time in attack and is the embodiment of a defensive specialist, was also crucial for France at the EHF EURO 2022, when the reigning Olympic champions finished fourth
  • Edwige ranked fifth in the defensive standings at the EHF EURO 2022, with seven blocked shots and two steals

Kathrine Heindahl – Denmark/Team Esbjerg

  • Heindahl was immense in helping Denmark seal the silver medal at the EHF EURO 2022, named in the All-star Team as the best defender in the competition
  • the line player had 14 blocks – double the number of any other player in the competition – and eight steals, totally dominating the standings for the best defender
  • the Esbjerg line player also excelled in the Champions League, helping her side reach the EHF FINAL4 for the second time in a row. She has the second largest number of blocks throughout the season, 14

Carin Strömberg - Sweden/Les Neptunes de Nantes

  • the captain of the Sweden women’s national team, Strömberg helped her side seal fifth place at the EHF EURO 2022
  • Strömberg was also a key member of the defence for Les Neptunes de Nantes, reaching the quarter-finals of the EHF European League Women
  • the Swedish back registered six blocks throughout the season in the second-tier European competition, making her a standout defender

Zsuzsanna Tomori - Hungary/FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria

  • named in the Team of the Week in rounds 1 and 11, one of the most experienced players in the Champions League, Tomori had an outstanding season to help her side clinch a maiden EHF FINAL4 berth
  • no player has registered more blocks in the European premium competition than Tomori, who had 18 in 15 games, the only player to block more than one shot per game on average this season
  • since becoming the Champions League top scorer in 2013, Tomori has moved towards a defensive role. She has been one of the most consistent defenders over the last years and also sealed the best defender position in the All-star Team in the 2017/18 season

Expert's view:

The saying goes that defences win championships and that was particularly true once again throughout the season. These players have truly been the best defenders in European handball for some years now, and all of them have contributed mightily to their team’s challenges. While many of them might not be top scorers and their work usually is not the shiniest, but without them, their sides would not go as far in their title challenge campaigns.


main photo © Olivier Stephan

Latest news

More News