December 16, 2015
Russia´s strong performance at the 2015 World Championship is partly due to a remarkable transformation of coach – Evgeniy Trefilov
By Peter Bruun
In recent years, the results of Russia´s female national handball team have been far off the level of the squad´s golden age, in the first decade of this millennium, when Russia earned four World Championship titles – from 2001 to 2009. Finishing sixth at the European Championship 2012, in Serbia, not even qualifying for the World Championship in the same country the following year, and finishing only 14th at the European Championship in Hungary and Croatia in 2014, are not the achievements one would expect. This year, at the 22nd World Championship, it has been a very different story. In the ongoing competition in Denmark, Russia has shown impressive performances and coach Trefilov’s squad is the only one that remains unbeaten. At times, Russia has played brilliant handball with more variations in defense as well as attack. The old adage that Russian handball never shows signs of development has been proven wrong this time around.
But what is the reason for this sudden change? Is the air in Denmark particularly good or is it the food? The proper answer is to be found elsewhere.
Yes – Russia has a good mixture of experienced- and young players. The 24-year-old, versatile back-court player Ekaterina Ilina is one of my personal favorites. But of course, this is not the reason for Russia´s comeback to the absolute top of women´s handball. One – very important – reason is a big, 60-year-old man who sits on the bench – Evgeniy Trefilov.
In an interview with Norway’s TV2 during the World Cup’s preliminary round, one of Russia’s key players, Anna Sen, put it like this: “Trefilov is not crazy any more. Now, he even helps us.”
The simple fact that one of Trefilov´s player’s dares to talk this way, is testament to the many positive changes in and around team Russia.
A change in temper
Observing Russia’s head coach during a recent match, it becomes quite clear what transformation Evgeniy Trefilov went through. Whereas in the past, Russia won games despite Trefilov’s presence on the sideline, now the opposite holds true – the team records victories because of him.
Too be fair – the “old” Trefilov has not entirely vanished. He still shouts a great deal and he still scolds his players from time to time. But his yelling appears much more constructive than it used to be and his cursing occurs less frequent, while his “terror substitutions” have been reduced to a minimum. More often Trefilov is seen in constructive dialogue with a player on the bench. It is quite apparent that the change in Trefilov’s behavior had an almost miraculous effect on the team’s spirit. Now, players smile and even laugh amongst each other – unthinkable only some months ago. Now team Russia’s enjoys playing handball – possibly the key reason for the current success.
Can Trefilov take Russia all the way?
But what is the cause for this remarkable behavioral change in Evgeniy Trefilov? Is it the fact that he was seriously ill some years ago? Is it his time away from the job as national team coach? Is it the simple fact that he has become older and wiser over the years? It may be any of those reasons or a combination thereof.
Fact is that Russia’s women are playing their best handball in a very long time. So, can a “converted” Evgeniy Trefilov take Russia all the way and win the first World Championship title in six years?
Still hard to say as there are a number of tough contenders left among the last eight teams in the competition. However, there is no doubt that Russia is the favorite in the quarter-final against Poland. It will be most interesting to follow Russia’s squad and Trefilov for the rest of the tournament. With a transformed coach in charge – anything is possible!