The 2016/17 DKB Handball Bundesliga season starts this weekend. For MT Melsungen, this is the twelfth straight season in the "strongest league in the world". The North Hesse side worked hard this pre-season, looking to build on last year's fourth place finish and EHF Cup qualification. Michael Roth's team has just three new faces and will square off against newly promoted HSC 2000 Coburg. Throw off in Rothenbach Hall at Messe Kassel is Sunday at 5:15 pm. Tickets are still available for presale and at the hall's box office, which opens at 3:45 pm.
Without question, the most successful season in the 90 year history of the Melsungen Handball club has raised hopes, expectations and estimates for the team from North Hesse. Spectator interest has risen significantly over a year ago (+27%), as seen in the number of season tickets. Almost 2,000 of the arena's 4,300 seats have been sold to season ticket holders for this season — also a new MT record. Among the leagues trainers, there's a majority expectation that the MT will once again be a candidate for the top five. One of them, Robert Andersson from HC Erlangen, mentioned the boys in red & white among the title contenders, in the same breath as Kiel, Flensburg and the Rhein-Neckar Löwen.
Coach Roth: We're going to do everything in our power to keep the success rolling – but it won't be easy!
Michael Roth, who first took over coaching duties for the red-and-white back in 2010, looks at the situation realistically: "It's completely natural that expectations will rise after that kind of season. We'll do everything in our power to produce those kind of results again. But understand that this will be very hard. Because the other teams that we put behind us last season have gone out and improved themselves too, and have also set their own expectations high as well. But we naturally remain highly ambitious and have shown in recent years that we set ourselves goals that we can actually attain. We have a very strong team, one that I as manager can rely on 100%. The team spirit that has defined us until new will feed our strengths in this new season as well. All the while, we intend to stay with our tried-and-tested credo, namely keeping a level head which in victory or defeat".
Michael Müller warns against underestimating first opponent
In the wake of the MT's successful start into the DHB Cup play — two matches, two wins, advancement to the quarter-finals — it's now time for the league matches to begin. The first fixture comes on Sunday against HSC 2000 Coburt, one of three newly promoted clubs. The squad coached by Jan Gorr will take the court with Adnan Harmandic (right pivot, previously at Wetzlar), Girts Lilienfelds (right back, Eisenach) and Romas Kirveliavicius (left back, Bietigheim), a complete line of players with Bundesliga experience. MT captain Michael Müller looks to the schedule for the first two weeks — home match against Coburg, then at Erlangen, another newly promoted side — with mixed feelings: "Newly promoted teams in particular will come out breathing fire. The trick for the favourite is to get a handle on things quick". (Photo: Lena Kuhaupt)
Three injuries, many alternatives
Coach Michael Roth sees his team as well equipped for the job, even if three players are still healing from injuries — Johan Sjöstrand (goal), Marino Maric (pivot) and Gabor Langhans (right back, newly signed from TuS N-Lübbecke): "We'd naturally prefer to have the whole roster available, but you can't pick and choose your injuries. We signed keeper Svetislav Verkic to a short-term contract, a strong choose. Even with Sjöstrand's injury, this prevents the entire load in the net from falling to René Villadsen. If Felix Danner needs a breather at the pivot, then Johannes Golla (Ed. note: a freshly minted European Junior Championship silver medallist) is now a fix part of the squad and ready to jump in at any time. At right back we've got several combinations of Timm Schneider and Nenad Vuckovic to give Michael Müller a chance to rest".
Arjan Haenen, newly signed from TBV Lemgo, got up to speed within the team quick during the pre-season. The Holland native will run the right wing together with Johannes Sellin. He himself has been forced to admit that his teammate will be hard to squeeze out of the roster. During the two Cup matches alone, Sellin smashed home18 goals against Leutershausen and Neuhausen and was one of the top scores during the test matches as well.
Referees in Kassel: Peter Behrens / Marc Fasthoff (Düsseldorf); DHB Observer: Uwe Stemberg
One last breath of summer with the aces from the MT at its RED BARBECUE
The team hopes to get off to a flaming start on Sunday at Rothenbach Hall, starting with the flames of the grill with its fans: All interested persons are heartily welcomed to the RED-BARBECUE on Friday, 2 September at 5 pm at the Buga lake, near the Seglergaststätte in der Fuldaaue 9, in Kassel.
"For the first time, we're throwing a family festival and inviting people to get ready to for the new season. Anyone who wants to support our Bundesliga team is most welcome", promises MT President Axel Geerken, speaking of the new "Red Barbecue" concept. Direct contact with the Bundesliga pros is naturally front and centre. Guests are invited to the Fuldaaue for a picnic style gathering with beer garden furniture, beverage stands and an open grill station. They can either cook meat and veggies brought from home onto the grills and quaff their own beverages or take advantage of the food and drink vendors on site. The park's meadows invite visitors to all manner of outdoor fun and games.
The RED BBQ is supported by the MT's partners Partyrent, MC Group, Licher Privatbrauerei, RhönSprudel, Getränke Waldhoff, Mercedes EF Autocenter Kassel, Real Audio GmbH, Landfleischerei Koch, eve&com, Weinhandlung Schluckspecht, my Vale and REWE. Proceeds will go to the MT's youth outreach programme.