08 Mar. 2022
Throughout the month of March, the IHF celebrates women in various roles in handball in a special series. Part two focuses on the MVP and winner of the most recent Women’s World Championship, Norwegian line player Kari Brattset Dale, who has risen to the challenge, despite an uneventful start of her career in handball.
Six years ago, Kari Brattset Dale was just signing for Vipers Kristiansand – the team that went on to dominate Norwegian club handball and eventually Europe. At the same time, the line player was making her debut in the Norway women’s national senior team.
Fast forward to 2022 and Brattset Dale is current world and European champion, and winner of the DELO EHF Champions League in 2019. She became the first line player to seal the MVP award at an IHF Women’s World Championship, after a dominant performance at Spain 2021.
Such a turn of events would have been inconceivable in 2016, but Brattset Dale has become the thread that keeps Norway together – a strong presence in attack and a true wall in the centre of the defence, yielding huge results over the last tournaments. At Champions League powerhouse Győr, her role is similar.
There are a number of superstars in both Norway and Győr’s squads, but no player has such a key role at both ends of the court in the national team in particular. It is Brattset Dale’s impact in defence as well as attack that makes her such a standout in her own teams and beyond.
At Spain 2021, the 31-year-old line player scored 38 goals – the 10th highest in the competition – while also blocking nine shots, for an average of one per game. A few months before, at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, Brattset Dale had 33 goals and finished third in the blocked shots statistics, with eight over eight games.
“2021 has been amazing for me and for Norway. We won the gold medal at the IHF Women’s World Championship and the bronze at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. It was not so good at club level, because we finished third in the DELO EHF Champions League, but I am very happy with how last year turned out,” said Brattset Dale to IHF.info.
Brattset Dale’s unexpected emergence
Norway are a true powerhouse in women’s handball, winning the EHF EURO eight times, the IHF Women’s World Championship four times and the Olympic Games two times in the past 25 years.
Therefore, breaking through the system and emerging as one of the best players in such a country is truly difficult and a performance in itself. It was also the path which the current MVP of the World Championship had to follow to get to the top.
As improbable as it may sound, plenty of promising players are slipping through the net in Norway when they are making the step towards the big leagues. However, with the pool of players being so big, others might emerge. Exactly the scenario in which Brattset Dale found herself in 2014.
“I was never a huge talent in handball, and I have also tried other sports. But it was a natural calling, all my friends were playing this sport and I quickly joined. Then I tried to become a better player and I worked harder and harder.
“The first big steps I made were when I was playing for Fredrikstad, then, in 2014, after being named the best line player of the Norwegian league, I joined Glassverket IF. And my career was quickly established,” says the 31-year-old line player.
After a superb season for Fredrikstad BK, she was called up for the extended national team by coach Thorir Hergeirsson. It was a surprise decision at the time, as Brattset Dale had never played for the junior or youth national squad. But Norway were casting the net wide as they searched for the next big thing on the line, where they would have to eventually replace the highly important Heidi Løke. The foundations were laid for both Brattset Dale’s own and the Norway team’s future, as the progress she made was duly noted.
Brattset Dale made her debut for the national team in 2016 and one year later she was named the MVP of the Norwegian domestic league, the Eliteserien, after a superb season with Vipers Kristiansand. It turned out to be the last season in Norway, as the line player signed for Hungarian powerhouse Győri Audi ETO KC.
“It was a difficult but normal decision, because Győr have been the best team in Europe over the last decade, winning the DELO EHF Champions League multiple times. It was flattering and it really helped me develop even further,” adds the Norwegian star.
Now, the transformation was complete. Brattset Dale had followed the footsteps of other dominant Norwegian line players including Løke, had become a complete player and was featuring for lengthy stints both in Norway’s national team and at Győr.
Few might have expected her to be named the MVP of the IHF Women’s World Championship, despite the superb contribution she made for Norway in the first global tournament the Scandinavian side finished unbeaten in history. A line player had never earned this honour, but the value Brattset Dale delivered across her multiple roles on the court was indisputable – scoring plenty of goals, dominating in defence, and initiating plays to set up Norway’s world-class back court. The choice for a line player highlighted the development of the game and acknowledgement of roles other than the most obvious options such as top scorer.
“I did not expect it and it was a huge surprise even for me. Sure, it feels nice, but I am a team player and I really thank my teammates for helping me get even better. The environment in the team is amazing. We are like a family and I think this is the secret for success,” says Brattset Dale.
Women’s handball has been a staple for Norwegian sport in the past decades, as the senior national team won 30 medals in the IHF Women’s World Championship, the EHF EURO and the Olympic Games since 1986, more than any other team in this period.
Therefore, the popularity of the “Håndballjentene” is overwhelming in Norway, with the women’s team being more popular than the men’s side. While the men’s team have made headlines in recent years after winning the silver medal twice at the IHF Men’s World Championship, in 2017 and 2019, Brattset Dale is just happy that handball is still one of the top sports in Norway.
“We have such great fans, which come to see and cheer for us everywhere we play. I would say that handball is such a popular sport in Norway, it does not matter if the women’s team or the men’s team is playing. We got some amazing results in the past years and we want to build on that in the future,” says the line player.
Past, present and future
They say that the future is inexorably linked with the past. Therefore, to ask Kari Brattset Dale about what she aims for in the next years of her career, the question which begs to be asked focuses on her first years in handball.
Would she do it differently? What would she tell her nine-year-old self, taking her first steps on the court?
The answer is, by definition, the DNA of Norwegian handball:
“Smile and have fun on every training session and during every match. And work hard,” Brattset Dale answers calmly and simply, without taking too much of a pause.
“Everything will come if you work hard and do the best you can to improve yourself, both as a person and as a player,” adds the line player.
But what about the future?
“Of course, more medals would be nice. And I would also like to win the DELO EHF Champions League at least once more with Győr,” concludes Brattset Dale.