Fun is the Reading motto
Fresh from their victory in the 2018 National Shield, Reading Lionesses are ready to take their place in the top tier of English handball – and they plan to do it with smiles on their faces.
Lionesses were crowned Regional League South East champions last season, won promotion to the top flight via the play-offs, and lifted the National Shield in a spectacular 2017-18 where they remained unbeaten in all competitions.
It was back in June 2015 when Reading Lions, themselves only established in 2013, held trials for a women’s team. Over the next three seasons the team won consecutive Regional League South East titles. One of the original players was goalkeeper Andreea Szabo. She felt that after going through the 2017-18 season unbeaten, the team felt ready to be promoted. She said: “We just felt like it was time to go upwards and seek new challenges.”
They achieved that promotion after beating Loughborough University 20-13 in the National play-offs. Szabo says key to their success on court is the attitude of the players. She added: “We are a very positive team – we never take the attitude of ‘we can’t do it’. We go there with a lot of fun and passion in our hearts. From the outside, when they see us, we all do our thing – everyone knows their body really well, so everyone is their own coach when it comes to warming up and making sure they are ready for the match.
“We go on the court and one is stretching, another is running, we’re all having a giggle, a really fun approach to the whole thing. Every match isn’t the same; it’s not regimented and military!”
The Lionesses are coached by one of the men’s players, who put himself forward for coaching qualifications this year. Szabo says Artem Kuybida has a fantastic eye for tactics and selection, as well as team morale.
“He’s got a really good eye when it comes to coaching. He’s got a lot of knowledge, and he can put tactical stuff into a very light-hearted message, so everybody can get it.
“And that together with all the players, being able to put everyone’s heads together – that’s what has led to the success."
So having made it to the top flight, where the Lionesses journey to east London to play Dagenham-based London Angels on the opening weekend of fixtures on 8/9 September, what do the Berkshire women hope to achieve?
Szabo said: “To have as much fun as possible! That is the biggest thing. We’re there now, we’ve made a name for the Lionesses, we’re not going to change who we are, we go there and have fun and we play handball which is what we know. We’re striving to be the best that we can be, and to carry on having fun, and to stay in the Premier League.”
The team wait until week four of fixtures, on the 20/21 October, before facing last year’s league and National Cup champions, London GD, at home which will be their biggest test so far. But Szabo says the team will stay true to their ethos. “When you take the fun out of it, it’s not enjoyable any more. It’s a sport and a passion that we all share, and that’s reflected in the way we train and we play, and enjoy ourselves.”