Standing at 215 centimeters Kristopans is at the moment SEHA- Gazprom League’s tallest player, active in both directions with an extremely powerful and precise left hand making him a valuable asset for any team.
After two seasons in Belarus, Kristopans decided to continue his career in Macedonia signing three-year long deal with Vardar which will on Friday, in SEHA - Gazprom League Round 3 derby in Skopje, welcome his former team Meshkov Brest.
By the club level, Kristopans managed to prove himself on national level being an important factor in Latvian national team. That is not surprising at all knowing that last season he scored 76 EHF Champions League goals combined with 77 in SEHA - Gazprom League putting him on top of his team’s scorelist for the season.
Two months ago you became a part of European champions Vardar. Did you already manage to get used to new system?I’m much better now than I was when I first came here. Vardar are playing differently than I’m used to which means I’ll surely need some time to reach my best. There is a lot of thing I need to learn and the best way is to go step by step. By all that, I have to say my teammates are great, helping me day in - day out so I feel I’m learning even quicker by them.
How much of a burden on your shoulders is the fact that you came here as a replacement for Alex Dujshebaev who was somehow a leader of this team?
Pressure is always around us and each match requires great amount of responsibility as we want to win every tie. We’re playing quality handball having good players on each position. I do not feel so much pressure from the outside as from the inside because I feel I know and can play much better.
You signed with Vardar several weeks before they secured EHF CL F4 spot last season. You must be even more pleased with your decision to join Vardar now?
Of course. When the club wins Champions League trophy it means everything is working on highest possible level. I’m pleased with the fact that I get to play for reigning champions but my goal is to reach the same heights with them this season, feel the same joy.
Friday brings you a match versus your former team Meshkov Brest, SEHA - Gazprom League Round 3 derby. Last season Meshkov were the only team to avoid a loss in Skopje. Do you have any advices for your new team on how to play against Meshkov?
I’m a pro player and Vardar is my team now. I don’t think it is my job to make tactics for the match. Our coach surely knows how to play them on Friday. Meshkov went through a lot roster changes during the off-season which means team is not full of different players and attitudes than last season. It won’t be easy, our matches are always amazingly narrow all the way until the end.
Which teams do you see as Vardar’ main rivals in SEHA - Gazprom League trophy race?
I came here to win titles. I really believe in this team and the fact we’ll once again have reasons to celebrate at the end of the season. We still have to see some teams in action, there were many roster changes during the summer but teams I see as biggest threats are surely Meshkov Brest and PPD Zagreb.
Can you tell us a little something about your handball story and when did you decide to become a handball player?
I was born in a very small town in Latvia. There were just two sports to choose from actually - handball and power lifting. My choice was obviously handball, all the way back from when I was ten.
With the physique you have it looks a lot easier to play handball. Do you see this as an advantage?
Handball is a sport filled with tactics and active defense. With my height it can sometimes be easier to play but it depends a lot on opponents and how they choose to play. This can also be a disadvantage sometimes. I’m used to playing with my physical properties obviously and I’m trying to bring my best each time I step on the court.
Before signing with Vardar you were gaining SEHA experience playing for Tatran Presov and Meshkov Brest. Can you now compare these three countries in terms on their passion for handball and working conditions?
Playing in Tatran means playing a lot of games and it can be really hard sometimes. You have to be focused all the time.
Meshkov Brest did a good job bringing fans closer to the team with some songsa and videos. You can feels their presence each match and it can be really helpful.
It is still early to talk about Skopje since I’ve only played one match in our sports hall so far. However, looking at some videos from the last season I can say fans are amazing.
Did you already become fan favorite? Are they recognizing you in the streets, how do they react when they see you?
They ask for photos sometimes, want to take a picture with me. However, I hope they’ll recognize me more often in several months and that they’ll be satisfied with my performances on the court.