From goalkeeper to top scorer in five years: Novak’s journey helps hosts Slovenia
25 Jun. 2022
After the first two matches at the IHF Women’s Junior World Championship, Slovenia have progressed to the main round, with two commanding wins against Mexico and Chile, which yielded a +35 goal difference.
With 66 goals scored, Slovenia rank seventh in the attacking standings, with 16 of those goals, or 24% of the number of goals scored by the hosts, being under their captain’s name, Erin Novak.
The 20-year-old left back has already been a part of the Slovenia senior women’s national team, having been selected for the 2021 IHF Women’s World Championship in Spain, but it was more of her being slowly ushered in by coach Dragan Adzic, who has been present at Slovenia’s junior team’s two matches in the championship to learn more about the future.
“It has been an amazing experience playing here, with the fans and family behind us. They give us so much energy, helping us deliver our best performances. Winning the first two games is our gift to them,” says Novak.
The left back has been in superb form, adding seven assists to her 16 goals, as she is currently in the third place in the top scorer standings, just behind Austria’s Kristina Dramac, who scored 26 times, and Czech Republic’s Charlotte Cholevova, who has 19 goals under her name.
While goals might come naturally for what projects to be Slovenia’s future at the left back position, it was not always like that for Novak. She started handball as a goalkeeper, played in the position for several years, before transitioning to the current left back spot just five years ago.
“It is always more fun to score goals than concede them, right?” laughs Novak when asked about what actually prompted that decision. The good mood definitely stems from Slovenia’s great start in the World Championship they are hosting, with the wins over Mexico and Chile coming without a struggle.
It was a transition that really paid dividends both for Novak and for Slovenian handball, which has constantly delivered new players which lighted up the competitions. It looks to be the case with the current team, as line player Valentina Klemencic, Novak and playmaker Ivona Barukcic displaying maturity on the court.
In fact, a superb 14:1 run in the game against Mexico to end the first half was the key point of Slovenia’s opening game at the IHF Women’s Junior World Championship, while in the second game, against Chile, the hosts conceded only two goals in the first 16 minutes of the second half to underline their defensive prowess.
Only Hungary, who conceded 25 goals, have a better defensive record than Slovenia, who rely on Novak also on that side of the game as a central defender. While her experience as a goalkeeper might help to protect the shot stoppers, her natural qualities definitely play a part in her development.
Slovenia will surely need more from her in the next matches, as they face Germany on Saturday in the last match of the preliminary round, before the main round clashes against the teams who will qualify from Group E – two out of Romania, Angola and the Czech Republic. They are eyeing the best finish in history in the competition, which is currently the 13th place set at Côte d’Ivoire 1997.
“We are taking it one game at a time, because we know tougher challenges await us. This competition is full of great teams, we have seen all of them at least twice now and we know it will not be that easy from this point on.”
“But, as I said before, I know that we are playing at home and this gives us the extra motivation we need. We are now facing Germany and we want to win and secure an advantage in the main round. Right now, we are not thinking about anything great in the future, just staying in the moment and playing our best handball,” concludes Novak.