The history of Handball Club LADA
The official date of LADA Handball Club foundation is April 7, 1998. However the team of masters has been built somewhat earlier on the basis of Sports School for Children and Youth ¹6, Togliatti, Central District. 1996 was the starting point, at which time Russian handball featured three Leagues, i.e. Superleague, Major and First League. Togliatti was represented in the lowest division by women’s team of Sports School ¹6 that was made up of 15-16 year old inexperienced girls, and the best possible result the team could aspire for was only to be one step above the bottom.
Andrei Stepanov and Aleksei Zhavoronkov came to Togliatti from Novokuznetsk, where they both worked as coaches of Zapsibovets team, in June 1997. Novokuznetsk had two teams playing in the Major League but the city, however, could not adequately finance them. So they requested employment at Selchanka, Samara, coached by Aleksandr Zayakin who, in turn, referred them to Vasily Odinokov, Chairman of the City Sports Committee of Togliatti. The new coaches brought along nine new players, and the team entered the Major League instead of Zapsibovets. In the very first year the new Lada team won the 4th place in the Major League. After another year it won the 1st place and entered the Russian handball elite, the Superleague.
So Lada started its season 1999 trained by a coach duet of Zhavoronkov and Stepanov. After just one round, Lada was taken over by Yevgeny Trefilov. Zhavoronkov went to his home town Urai, Tumen region, where he is now an instructor of young players. Andrei Stepanov stayed in Togliatti and is now the head of Special Olympic Sports School for Children and Youth No.2 “Handball” in Togliatti, opened by the City Sports Committee of Mayor’s Office in Togliatti in December 1999. It is worthwhile saying that under his guidance the School has been developing very successfully. Togliatti has introduced and streamlined a unique training system for young sportsmen. Not once have children’s teams of Togliatti won first places in finals of Russian Championships and visited Handball Festivals held abroad as awards.
The importance of having a sports school for training children and youth was obvious right from the start. There are sport classes in this school where instructors train children of individual age groups. A large number of children were screened to be admitted to the school. It was decided to open handball classes in municipal schools in order to widely promote this sport in the city. In total, there are 20 city schools involved. The Children’s Handball League organized in Togliatti comprises several tens of teams. In total, about 1300 children attend our school and take part in city and district championships. The school is recognized to have the best facilities possible to master the sport.
In autumn of 1999 LADA-Togliatti Handball Club was taken under patronage of AVTOVAZ Joint Stock Company. Yuri B. Stepanov, one of the Company’s senior executive managers and now being the first vice-president of AVTOVAZ, became President of Lada Togliatti Handball Club and invited Vitaly Golitsyn to take the post of Club director. It was a group of enthusiasts who made the decision to build a team of skillful handball players that would be competitive on the European sport arena and who strove to bring women’s handball to the highest level. The group included the above mentioned people, Yuri Stepanov, Vitaly Golitsyn, and Vasily Odinokov, Chairman of the City Sports Committee, and Nikolai Nabokin, director of Sports Complex Olymp. These are the people who made the most significant contributions to the development of handball in Togliatti as well as in Russia.
At the beginning of season 1999/2000, Lada welcomed a new chief coach Yevgeny Trefilov, a 43-year-old experienced and ambitious coach who had been instructing various Superleague teams for 7 years. Vitaly Krokhin, Distinguished coach of Russia and USSR, was appointed senior coach. Since Lada did not have own players at first, it needed to take on ‘guest’ sportsmen from other cities. However, it was made a strict policy not to invite foreign players and later only build upon players ‘nurtured’ in handball school in Togliatti that employed best instructors from all over Russia.
In its first season 1999/2000, Lada won only the 4th place in the Superleague and therefore was not eligible for the European Cupwinners’ Cup. The second season in the League was more successful for Lada winning silver medals that led to the participation in the European Cupwinners’ Cup. Women’s handball team Lada received the title of the Champion of Russia for the first time of its existence and became No.1 team of the European Cupwinners’ Cup in spring 2002 having won over several top European clubs, including “Metz”, France, and “Olthim”, Romania.
So now LADA-Togliatti Handball Club is used as a training base for the Russian Women’s national team, Yevgeny Trefilov being the chief coach, appointed two years earlier, and Vitaly Krokhin being a senior coach. The national team has successfully participated in two major international championships (European Championship held in Romania in 2000 and World Championship held in Italy in 2001). The team became the bronze winner of the European Championship while the World Championship brought gold medals and the title of the World Champions.
While only three girls from Lada played on the national team in 2000 (Oksana Romenskaya, Natalya Goncharova and Nigina Saidova), in a year there were 6 of them (Romenskaya and Goncharova as well as Irina Poltoratskaya, Elena Parshkova, Anna Kareeva and Inna Suslina). Further on handball players from Togliatti being in Russian national team kept showing their best performance.
At the beginning of 2003 season Lada being the Champion had its debut in the most prestigious European club tournament – Champions’ League. Lada yielded to Croatian Podravka in the first match of group round in Croatia (20:22). But then Lada won 5 matches in a row over: “Valencia”, Spain (25:24 and 23:22) in home and out matches, Kometal, Macedonia – the winner of European Super Cup of 2003 (22:21 and 24:22), in home match over Podravka, Croatia (29:26). Thus Lada was qualified for the quarter finals having won the first place in its group.
Having yielded to local team Viborg in Denmark in the first match of the quarter-finals Togliatti handball team actually had no chance to be included into the semifinal. Then Lada won playdown over the Dane (27:26) in a home match but the score turned out to be not enough and the debutants of the Champions’ League were not eligible to continue the contest.
Having won Championship of Russia twice in June 2003 Lada team was entitled to participate again in European club tournament. At that time Togliatti team won the 2nd place in its group of four competitive teams having yielded twice to Dunaferr team from Hungary with minimum score (in home match 21:22, in out match – 28:29). However, Lada won over its other two competitors: Valencia, Spain – 33:24 and 29:26, and Trier, Germany – 31:24 and 32:23. Lada won over Krim from Slovenia, the current winner of Champions’ League, in the first quarter final home match with the score 24:21. However, in a week Togliatti team yielded to Krim in out match (25:29) and according to the total sum of scores of two matches Lada was not eligible for further fight for the main European trophy.
Nevertheless, Lada has finished 2003/2004 season with positive results. After winning twice over Dynamo-Aqua from Volgograd in the final twin tournament of the Russian Championship in Togliatti, Lada became the golden medalist of the Championship of Russia for the third time. Starting from the same 2003/2004 season Togliatti represented two more teams in Superleague. Lada-2 made its debut in Superleague and took the 9th place having won with confidence the previous competitions in Major League where, in turn, Lada-3 team was entered.
Lada met season 2004/2005 being modified by two-thirds, that didn’t signify an easy way to the goals, ambitious as usual. On the European arena Togliatti handball players though put up a good show, were not brilliant. Lada finished group tournament of the Champions’ League third only to finalists Dutch Slagelse and Macedonian Kometal and joined the run for the second best European cup trophy – Cupwinners’ Cup. The force-major circumstances did not allow Russian handball players win quarterfinals, where their opponent – German Nuernberg - was more successful. However, Lada’s character, tempered in the course of the very intensive and rich in games season, showed its worth in the finishing stage of the season, where eventually Lada not only took the lead in the Russian regular championship, but won gold medals of the Super League for the fourth consecutive time in club history after convincing win in the finals over Dynamo Volgograd (26:24 on the road, and 31:19 at home).
The first half of the season 2005/2006 was marked by the fact that the National Team guided by Yevgeny Trefilov the backbone of which was made by seven Lada players (Maria Sidorova, Polina Vyakhireva, Liudmila Postnova, Natalya Shipilova, Ekaterina Marennikova, Irina Bliznova and Oksana Romenskaya), became a gold winner of the World Championship in Saint Petersburg. Six of them have been granted Honored Master of Sports Russia (Romenskaya already had it). All of them have been awarded the National Sport Prize “Slava” (Glory) as the best Russian women team of the year 2005 by the Academy of prominent sport achievements “Slava”.
To the moment of rewarding, that took place at the Central Academic theatre of Russian Army, Togliatti girls have already played the quarter-final of the first Russian play-off and drop out of European Champions League, where they successfully passed the group round, but were stopped at the quarter-final stage. Like two years ago a barrier was set up by Slovenian Krim, that got a minimum advantage by number of goals scored in the guest match (Russian Champions won the match in Togliatti – 36:29, Slovenian Champions won in Ljubljana – 25:18).
In Russian play-off to which Lada arrived as the absolute preliminary stage winner of the National Championship (in 22 matches only 1 point has been lost), Togliatti girls fully justified hopes of the fans. Having lost the first final match in Volgograd against Dynamo with minimal goal difference (29:30), Lada responded by the success in the home match (28:27). In the additional third match in Togliatti Volgograd team was knocked out after the break – 42:27 (first half – 17:16) and “Lada” became the fifth consequent National Championship gold winner.
Togliatti club previously named as “HC LADA-Togliatti” entered the season of 2006/2007 with a new name “HC LADA” and became 100% associated company of AVTOVAZ, that retained the main sponsor status. Yuri Stepanov, deputy of General Director AVTOVAZ for personnel became the Chairman of the club. Rasul Battalov became the Director of club. Yevgeny Trefilov was replaced by Aleksey Gumyanov as Lada head coach, under his guidance Togliatti team became the winner of the first National Cup, organized during the off-season on its home playground.
At the end of year three players from Togliatti playing for the National Team (Ekaterina Marennikova, Liudmila Postnova and Maria Sidorova) won the World Cup in Denmark. After that these three players plus Irina Bliznova became the silver medalists of the European Championship in Sweden.
Lada has reached the final in the National Championship in the same season as in Champions’ League. Moreover Lada became the first team among Russian clubs having won with confidence the group round in the most prestigious European Cup tournament and having knocked out such grand teams of the world club handball as Danish Viborg (active champion of Champions’ League at that moment) and Austrian Hypo (the leader in winning the major European trophy). Only Danish Slagelse could outgo Togliatti team on the way to the top handball title having won in return guest match in Brondby (32:24) after battle draw (29:29). Exhausting matches in two fronts didn’t prevent Lada from winning in the Russian Championship final in games series against “Zvezda” from Zvenigorod due to confident home win (33:28). However, the team has lost in the first return match at the end of the season in Moscow region and then yielded in the additional, the third, match (29:34), being satisfied only with silver medal as in the Major European Cup.
Unforeseen complications, connected with irregularities in financing of the club, resulted in rather numerous losses in Lada team line-up before the beginning of the season 2007/2008, however, we managed to keep the most of key players and home-grown talented youth, who came to the team to cover the personnel deficit. In summer, the Togliatti girls with weakened team composition got to the Final of the second Russian Open Cup held in Rostov-on-Don, from where they came home with silver medals. In autumn, Irina Bliznova, Liudmila Postnova and Maria Sidorova became Winners of Euro Cup in Denmark as national team players. And in the end of 2007 the same players and Nadezhda Muravyeva won the World Championship in France, that victory for the first time in history brought a ticket to Olympic Games in Beijing to the Russian team, which for the second time for the last two years was granted Honor National Sport Award.
In spite of considerable rejuvenation of the team, Lada in this very season did not drop the level of its results. In Champions League 2007/2008, having passed three group stages, including qualification, it reached Semifinal for the second time in succession, where in ambiguous, in terms of refereeing, match with Hypo it was forced to lose to the Austrian club. But in Russian Championship there were no equal competitors to the Togliatti team. During the season they have not lost a single time to their main competitor “Zvezda” from Zvenigorod (once tie score and three victories). Success in the final tour of preliminary stage in the Moscow area (31:30) brought the girls from Volga region to the first place as per the result of two-round tournament, and in the Final of play-off Lada defeated the Zvenigorod team in guest match (29:26) and in home match (27:25) thus having become a six-time National Champion in the year of the tenth anniversary of the club.
Four Lada handball players – Irina Bliznova, Ekaterina Marennikova, Ludmila Postnova and Maria Sidorova participated in the Olympic Games in Bejing, where they won silver medals. Later they became the holders of the state awards. Sidorova by the decree of Dmitry Medvedev, The President of Russian Federation, got the Order of Merit I Medal, Bliznova, Postnova and Marennikova got the Order of Merit II Medal. Four months after the Olympics in Bejing three Togliatti players – Ekaterina Davydenko, Viktoria Zhilinskayte and Nadezhda Muravyeva – won bronze medals of Europe Championship in Macedonia as members of renewed Russian team. During the season 2008/2009 "Lada", having lost by various reasons the most of its top players, couldn't qualify from the group at the first stage of the Champions League, after which it was headed by Vyacheslav Kirilenko. Early May at the final stage of the Russian cup in Rostov-on-Don the team won silver, while late May it confined itself to the bronze medals of the national championship, for the first time in the club's history. Both times it was Zvenigorod "Zvezda", who stopped their way to gold.