79 saves are a statement. No other EHF EURO goalkeeper has saved more shots than Tess Wester. The 23-year-old Dutch is one of the main reasons the Netherlands are in their first ever EURO final on Sunday against Norway.
The star of Wester, who plays for EHF Cup participants SSG Bietigheim in Germany, rose last year.
After Jasmina Jankovic, who was supposed to be the Dutch number one between the goal posts at the World Championship in Denmark, suffered a severe knee injury, Wester took this role. And she saved and saved and saved – at the end of the tournament, she was nominated as All-star Team goalkeeper and took the first ever medal for a Netherlands senior team at a major event.
“We did not lose gold, but won silver,” Wester expresses the opinion of the Dutch, who were chanceless in the match in Herning, losing 23:31 to Norway. And Wester had the worst half of the tournament, saving 20% as the team were down by 9:20 after 30 minutes.
“I do not look back, just ahead,” Wester says today. At the age of 18, she left the famous Dutch handball academy at Papendal, and as with nearly all of those highly-skilled talents, made her way to Germany and signed for Oldenburg. In the summer of 2015, she joined Bietigheim.
“Of course, all the girls at Papendal will watch the final,” says Wester. The older ones from the academy have already been at some EURO matches in Kristianstad. “It is our job to promote handball in the Netherlands, so more girls and boys come to our sport and secure a successful future.”
Despite her young age, she is carrying a huge responsibility in the team. “I like it, but I still think that an ego, an individual player, is always less important than the team.” Today Wester & Co. have the chance to pay back Norway for their World Championship 2015 Final and Olympic Games bronze-medal match losses: “They are the best team in the world and they have such huge experience in playing finals. It is our second ever and the first EURO final, so we should be humble,” Wester says.
And she praises Sunday’s counterparts, Norwegian goalkeepers Silje Solberg and Kari Aalvik Grimsbo: “Mainly Grimsbo has won so many titles. In my opinion, she is currently the best goalkeeper in the world. Solberg is calm and patient, but when it comes to a shot, she is there. I want to become like both of them. At the moment, you cannot compare me with them. There is a huge gap.”
But Wester is bridging this match by match, and anyone that saw the Dutch players during and after the matches or in the team hotel can recognise the fun they have and the great atmosphere among them. “Of course, we have fun, we enjoy every second of the event. Mainly we enjoy being in another final. Except for our opener against Germany, we only had fun.”