Four games, four victories, the Rhein-Neckar Löwen (The ”lions”) really got off to a dream start in the LIQUI MOLY HBL. Before the top game on Saturday (4.30 p.m., live on SKY) against SG Flensburg-Handewitt, the new coach Sebastian Hinze, the new captain Patrick Groetzki and managing director Jennifer Kettemann will analyse the current situation and go in search of the secret of success.
The lions have put a tick behind the past season, with Sebastian Hinze, previously coach of Bergischer HC for many years, the motto: everything at the beginning. After saying goodbye to lion legend Andy Schmid, among others, there were a few hopeful talents who quickly gained a foothold with the lions. “Those who were there before me have to judge how much fresh wind I blew here,” Hinze admits modestly: “I try to implement my idea of handball step by step, always with a view to what I find here and what can actually be implemented. First of all, I wanted to give the team a well-working defence system and the right transition game. As far as that goes, we've made very good progress so far and have been able to experience our first sense of achievement," the new coach draws a positive interim balance after four games.
Managing director Jennifer Kettemann, whose contract has just been extended to 2026, is at least as happy: “Of course, the current success helps enormously. Especially since we didn't really know where we were after pre-season, with the changed squad and the new playing system. This success feels good for the team, as well as for the coaches, the team behind the team and all of our fans." But the Löwen boss knows that despite all the successes, you have to keep your feet on the ground: "We shall enjoy it quietly on the respective day or evening. But we know very well that these are only snapshots, that there is still a lot of work ahead of us and that there will definitely be setbacks. Sebastian Hinze exemplifies this humility, this work attitude. The team is fully involved. That gives me hope that we can confirm this upward trend and translate it into stable development.”
For right wing Patrick Groetzki, who, like Uwe Gensheimer, lives by the motto "once a lion, always a lion", the success is no coincidence: "A lot has changed, but last year we played a good pre-season, the mood in the team was good too. If you look at our game, the main thing we got was a speed upgrade. We try to use every ball we win to push the pace straight away. We're doing really well at the moment and posing big problems for our opponents. I have the feeling that the cogs within the team now mesh much better. It all seems much more homogeneous than it was last time.”
Sebastian Hinze also shares this joy, even though he admits that “I'm a bit surprised in view of the optimal start to the season. We played well in pre-season and also achieved good results. That certainly helped us to start the season with confidence and the belief that we're on the right track. But Bundesliga is something else again. We are happy that we started so well. Because that was anything but a matter of course.”
For Groetzki, the basic tactical orientation is crucial: "We have found a system in which many players feel comfortable. This has given us a sense of achievement, and this in turn reinforces our belief in the system. However, there will also be setbacks and then it will be crucial how we deal with them.” Despite the current ranking constellation, managing director Jennifer Kettemann prefers to look ahead rather than back: “I have the feeling that these two teams from last season and now cannot be compared at all though the team is basically the same, apart from a few changes.”
She therefore sees the coach as the secret of success: “What Sebastian Hinze has achieved in such a short time is absolutely remarkable. He gave the players a system to feel comfortable in, that plays to their strengths and that is extremely uncomfortable for opposing teams to play in.” Kettemann hadn't expected it to work so well right at the start of the season, but: "It gives us additional self-confidence. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasize once again: We cannot assume right now that the whole season will continue like this. We are pursuing a plan designed for sustainability and we'll have to be patient and calm if things don't go that way."
This plan also includes the long-term contract with the former SAP manager who succeeded Lars Lamade in this position in 2016. Kettemann is therefore also thinking in terms of perspective: “We have drawn up a five-year plan. During this period, we want to put ourselves in a position to attack at the top again and play for titles. This also includes working patiently and purposefully on the individual components of this plan until then – although of course we would not resist short-term successes. In a year's time we want to be in a better position than at the end of last season. In three years we want to take the next step and move much closer to the top teams in the league.”
And one of these top teams is the visitor in the SAP Arena on Saturday: SG Flensburg-Handewitt. For team captain Patrick Groetzki this is more than a normal match: "Games against Flensburg are always special. The last two home games had dramatic features, each ended in a draw. Now we would like to keep both points in our SAP Arena, but we also know how difficult it will be. Flensburg is complete again with a few exceptions and I think they have one of the best squads in the league. That will be a huge challenge for us. Conversely, we don't have to hide from anyone, especially not at home. We're extremely excited about this game and want to show that from the start."
However, coach Sebastian Hinze thinks in other spheres: “We try to detach ourselves from individual results and keep an eye on the big picture. It's about pushing a development that will put us in a position to play for titles again in the medium to long term. Every sense of achievement helps. On the other hand, we can't question everything just because a game goes wrong. It's more important to me that we present ourselves the way we want to in a game like this. That we stick to our plan, follow through with our system and hopefully get the chance to take something countable with us in the end.”
But how solid is his team already so early in the season? "We'll see. I have a good impression so far," says Hinze: "But we're still at the beginning of a long season. A lot will also depend on how we get through the season in terms of injuries. You can only make a serious assessment when about a third of the season has been played.”
But the coach is already very happy with the new arrivals: "Olle Forsell Schefvert and Halil Jaganjac are doing outstandingly. Especially in defence, where they jointly provide the middle block. But also in attack. With his dynamic, Halil is already a mainstay in both extended counterattacks and positional attacks. And the whole team benefits from Olle’s overview and game intelligence.”
The initial successes of course also make the tasks of the new captain Patrick Groetzki easier, who succeeded Uwe Gensheimer in this position: "I've taken on a lot of responsibility before that, I've always spoken out when necessary, including on critical issues, and I tried to put my experience here. A few new tasks are added, but that is very limited. It's not like the captain is the only one who has a say here." For the long-time national player, the team was the priority: "We have a lot of experienced players, many leaders who get involved and it's very important to me that we discuss upcoming issues as a team or in the team council and pass them on or make decisions. Of course, I take responsibility for this and present myself to the team.”