EUROBASKET WOMEN QUALIFIERS
By Paul Nilsen
Group B promises exciting match-ups. Montengro aim to establish themselves in the top, while Poland and Serbia are eager to make up for disappointing results last summer.
With these three teams fighting for the two available spots, former Division B squads Estonia and Switzerland hope to spring a surprise.
|Estonia's young players have nothing to lose this summer. |
Having won seven out of their eight games in EuroBasket Women Division B last year, there is an argument that Estonia may have been an ‘in-betweener' nation. There is no doubt that they continue to evolve and the Qualification Round will be a real chance to gauge the degree of that improvement. Center Valeria Kast recently gave an example of the pragmatic approach the players and everyone involved with Estonian basketball have right now. She admitted it is likely to take generations to eventually excel at this level but at least they are heading in the right direction. Estonia has little to be fearful of and absolutely nothing to lose with a host of young players coming through, who are gaining in experience and maturity. Even if this summer proves difficult, it is unlikely to be viewed as a reality check. Estonia are a self-aware nation knowing their limitations in terms of talent and experience, but they also showed in Division B they have a nice team ethic and know what it takes to be victorious. They will relish the games with Switzerland in particular and may spring a surprise elsewhere, especially with the dangerous Viive Kai-Rebane on the roster.
Key Player: Viive-Kai Rebane
Exciting Talent: Maaja Bratka
Key Absence: None
X Factor: Jana Rannaveski shot the ball really well in Division B and she has the capacity to be a difference maker if she continues her form from the last two summers.
In Just Six Words: A perfect challenge to measure progress.
Having landed a spot at their first ever EuroBasket Women last year, Montenegro celebrated the historic occasion in the best possible way - by announcing their arrival at their first major tournament with a spectacular winning streak as they made an epic splash in Katowice. They were the talk of the tournament and claimed some big scalps including Greece and Spain but when things moved to Lodz for the latter stages, their short rotation began to take its toll as they faded. An injury to the terrific Iva Perovanovic didn't help and they eventually just missed out on fifth place and a shot of an Olympic berth this summer. Instead, coach Miodrag Baletic must ensure his players are re-focused and ready to forget their exploits last time out since he will know last summer's glories will mean nothing if they don't build on the momentum. They have a good six or seven player rotation but now need to try and extend that if they want to be successful in the long-term.
Key Player: Iva Perovanovic
Exciting Talent: Ana Turcinovic
Key Absence: Anna De Forge
X Factor: The potential addition of WNBA star and EuroLeague Women winner Shay Murphy could ensure they book their place if the relevant paperwork is completed in time. She will possibly provide the backcourt scoring power they sometimes lack, which will be worsened if De Forge isn't playing. Additionally they aren't deep and consequently they are highly exposed when injuries or foul trouble occur.
In Just Six Words: If motivation is high, they can excel.
|After a three-year absence Agnieszka Bibrzycka is back with the Polish national team.|
When it comes to qualification campaigns, it's been a while for Poland who hosted EuroBasket Women last summer. It's not going to be easy although they can console themselves with being drawn in a relatively balanced and open group. It could have been worse for new head coach Jacek Winnicki. He has one star player missing in the form of Ewelina Kobryn, who is in the WNBA with Seattle Storm. Another star player is back on board in the shape of Agnieszka Bibrzycka, who has plenty of class and offers huge scoring potential from the wings. However, an injury could yet rule her out which would be a devastating blow. It's a different kind of pressure this summer for Poland who managed just one victory on home soil last year which was something of a disappointment. However, not qualifying for France would be an even bigger blow. There are a few younger players beginning to emerge such as Magdalena Zietara who burst onto the scene with Lotos Gdynia in EuroLeague Women last season. It remains to be seen though if she will be given a chance at senior level having impressed in the youth categories. Poland can advance for sure but will have to play well to see off Montenegro and Serbia.
Key Player: Agnieszka Bibrzycka
Exciting Talent: Magdalena Zietara
Key Absence: Ewelina Kobryn
X Factor: They must somehow step up in the paint and make up for the huge gap left by Kobryn. This is easier said than done of course but how successful they are in this challenge of replacing her interior coring and hard work on the glass could determine whether they make it to France.
In Just Six Words: Tough assignment if Biba misses out.
Two years ago, there was absolute agony for Serbian women's basketball when they lost out on automatic qualification for EuroBasket Women 2011 in a three-way tie when they had looked odds on to progress. They couldn't pick themselves up from that psychological blow in the subsequent Additional Qualifying Round but this time there is a mood of needing to avenge that particularly bitter taste. They will have to compete once again without the considerable skills of Sonja Petrovic although doubts over Jelena Milovanovic remain the real concern. She isn't guaranteed to feature as she completes rehab from serious injury. The health, fitness and subsequent production of Milovanovic will go a long way to determining whether Serbia progress. If you are in any doubt as to her importance, she led the team in scoring, assists, steals and blocks during the previous campaign. This potentially bad news is at least offset a little by the likely addition of Sara Krnjic, an immensely talented frontcourt player who represents the future for the Serbian national team under the hoop. They won't take Switzerland or Estonia lightly but the games against Poland and Montenegro look like the deal breakers.
Key Player: Ivanka Matic
Exciting Talent: Sara Krnjic
Key Absence: Sonja Petrovic
X Factor: Ana Dabovic could hold the key. She is a scorer who can put points on the board in a hurry. If she plays well and specifically makes some outside shots then she could make a big difference, especially if Milovanovic doesn't manage many minutes.
In Just Six Words: Good prospects even with key absences.
|28-year-old Karen Twehues will be one of Switzerland's key players this summer.|
Another team who previously played their basketball in the old second tier, their exploits in the now void Division B were nothing much to write home about. Still teams will need to pay respect to Switzerland or they could be made to pay. Many players have gained further valuable experience during the recent club season by playing EuroCup Women with Sdent Helios. This will be important for a roster not blessed with players representing top level teams. They also have to deal with a sizable imbalance skewed heavily towards guards and size is likely to be an issue for them. However, there is a feeling women's basketball in Switzerland is improving and this summer will be a chance to show this and at the very least, gain valuable experience at the top level in a national team vest. If they get their fans to come out and support them on home soil, they could make life very uncomfortable for their opponent. A competitive start will be vital for confidence purposes.
Key Player: Karen Twehues
Exciting Talent: Alexia Rol
Key Absence: None
X Factor: They are very small and this probably means they must rebound as a team and use their quickness to get hands in the passing lanes and to also pressure the ball for precious transition scores.
In Just Six Words: Outsiders, capable of surprising at home.