Dreams keep coming true: hard work pays off for Netherlands’ Hendrikse

12 Apr. 2024

Dreams keep coming true: hard work pays off for Netherlands’ Hendrikse


Any follower of handball in the past decade could not have missed the growth and success of the Netherlands’ women’s national team.

With numerous medals to their name – IHF World Championship gold (2019), silver (2015) and bronze (2017) and EHF European Championship silver (2016) and bronze (2018) – plus two, consecutive top five finishes at the Olympic Games – 4th (2016) and 5th (2020), they become one of the most feared teams around.

And these results have also added a plethora of household names to the handball lexicon including those such as Lois Abbingh, Tess Wester, Angela Malestein and Estavana Polman, amongst others, synonymous with the famous oranje shirts and quality on court.

A debut in February, first goals on her birthday

But one name in the Dutch squad at the 2024 IHF Women’s Olympic Qualification Tournament #2 in Torrevieja, Spain may not be so familiar – Nathalie Hendrikse.

And that is not surprising, considering she only made her debut 44 days ago.

That was away at Czechia, in a 2024 EHF European Championship Qualification Phase 30:29 win at the end of February, where she registered just one shot before being part of the team which saw off Czechia again a few days later in ’s-Hertogenbosch (42:25). 

She finally made her breakthrough in front of goal away in Portugal last week, scoring twice in a 36:25 victory on her birthday to ensure the Dutch were set up nicely for Torrevieja, where they started with a 17-goal, turnaround victory (34:22) against Argentina, a match where Hendrikse again scored two.

But what is most impressive is that Hendrikse made her national team debut just a few weeks before her 29th birthday.

“I've never been this close,” smiled Hendrikse to when asked how close she had been to selection for the national team previously.

“I've been on the list for a few years now, but I would have never thought about standing here and playing in an Olympic Qualification Tournament. I probably would have declared myself an idiot if  someone said that to me in January.

“I'm very happy and honoured to be here, it’s amazing” she added. “It's nice to walk in orange and play for my national team. It’s good if I make the goals that I need to make, but I'm someone who is always very critical so I will still think about the first shot that I missed, but it's okay.”

Their 12-goal victory against Argentina was not plain sailing though, with the South American side going 5:0 up early on and leading for nearly all of the first half.

The result sets up the Netherlands for their crucial game against Czechia on Friday, knowing that a win would seal their place at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, but Hendrikse is well aware of what needs to be done to beat their opponents who suffered a disheartening 31:21 loss against Spain.

“There’s a lot of things to improve,” said the Thuringer HC player. “[At half-time] there were some things, especially about the start of the game, discussed and I think we did a good job in the second 15 minutes of the first half. We had a little hard time again in the second half at the start again, but then it went up. We are happy with the win and that’s the most important thing.

“We now have to focus fast for the next game because that's already here.”

On the other side of the television screen now

And Hendrikse is already here, with the Dutch squad, full of talent and some global handball icons, helping her to reach her highest possible level.

“It was strange in the start, but I knew a lot of girls from before from the teams that I play against with my own team in Germany and in the European leagues, plus I have also met some of the girls,” explained Hendrikse about now being in a team featuring Polman, Malestein, Abbingh et al rather than watching them from the spectator seats in person or on television.

“But it's different of course. Now, you're part of the team and sometimes, really, it's a little bit strange to realise that you are not the one in the audience. You're now part of it, but that's nice – I had to make a speech after my first game and it went fine.

“I play with a lot of girls who are playing in the best leagues, playing Champions League and who are playing on the highest level,” she added about making the step up. “That's amazing and I can learn a lot from it, from the attitude, from the workload, from everything that we do.

“And in my position I have Angela (Malestein), who is one of the best right wings in the world – the nicest thing for me is that I can learn a lot more. I'm enjoying every second of it.”

Never too late

The call-up for Hendrikse is a clear example of how by just focusing on yourself and working hard can pay dividends, no matter how late it is in your career or how old you are, with the right wing crediting the support of her family and personal work ethic as keys to reaching the top. 

“I never thought that opportunity would come, but look at me now. I’m here,” she says with a wide smile. “I got a text message from Per (Johansson – Netherlands coach) to take a call the following day and I was wondering ‘what is this about?’. Of course, I knew who he was and then the next day he called. I was very surprised but very happy to hear that [I had been selected]. 

“My debut was in Czechia, so I had no family or friends there, but when we had the home game it was even more special – I had my family and friends and I saw them sitting in the audience, it was amazing,” she explained. “My family has been there for me my whole life, bringing me to every game since I was a little child, so they're very important to me.”

And coach Johansson has been impressed so far.

“It’s the second time that I have worked with Nathalie after she was with us for the Czechia game,” he said to “She has a very positive aura around her, she's a hard worker and she's also accepting the role of playing number two behind Angela Malestein.

“She has played quite good years in the European leagues so it was time for me to try her and so far she fits very good into the team.”

The fit is important for the player too, crediting that as another reason for her making top with her nation.

“It’s very important that I'm feeling well in my own team, in my club,” she explained about her journey to the national team before offering advice to anyone else who thinks they may have missed their chance to represent their country.

“Pick a club where you can play a lot, where you can show yourself a lot, where you can develop a lot and then work hard every day and try to improve yourself wherever you can. Then, at some point, maybe, you'll end up there.”

Now she has reached that point, the next goal is the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, with Hendrikse well aware of the assignment that is bigger than her own, inspiring story.

“It’s everything, that's our main goal,” she said about booking a ticket to the global event next July and August.

“That would be the big dream for me. I'm 29 now and I don't know if I would make another one, or if I'm even going to be part of the team. If there is even a small possibility, it would definitely be amazing to reach it.”