|15 August 2012|
Defending champions Spain will fancy their chances of picking up where they left off last summer with Belarus, Latvia and Lithuania all looking to record an early upset at this year's U20 European Championship Women.
|Maryia Papova led Belarus to promotion at this year's U18 European Championship Women Division B, being named MVP of the tournament.|
Belarus only just survived relegation at last year's U20 European Championship Women but have the capacity to post an improved performance this time around since they have a wealth of chemistry and continuity to call upon.
For there was only one 1991 born player in the team last summer and with the dynamic wing and frontcourt quartet of Nadzeyha Bohdan, Maryia Filonchyk, Maryna Ivashchanka and Maryia Papova all back on the roster, this bodes extremely well.
A number of Belarus players, including most of those above, have also benefited from court time in EuroCup Women last season and with this added experience, they could be a much tougher unit in Debrecen.
They should have strength in depth in the paint and should also be difficult to break down. However, the question mark against them will be whether they can find some consistency and production in the backcourt.
Having finished in eleventh position last time out, Lithuania is now in their fifth successive year in Division A. And, it could be an interesting one since they have lost the bulk of the team from last summer which included a large chunk of 1991 born players.
However, they do at least retain the services of Monika Grigalauskyte who almost averaged a tournament double-double and was the best rebounder in Serbia. She then followed that up with a sparkling double-double season in EuroCup Women with Lemminkainen to underline her quality.
In the backcourt, the return of leading scorer Santa Okockyte who played in EuroLeague Women with VICI Aistes last year is a real bonus and she will be expected to provide the bulk of the scoring once again after racking up over 14 points per game last summer.
Unfortunately Lithuania was relegated from Division A of the U18 European Championship Women last summer in Romania. This has raised a slight question mark over the quality of players coming through.
But, in the shape of center Ieva Preskientye, they have a true stand-out and a wonderful prospect. She led the team in points, rebounds, steals and blocks in Oradea.
|Mariona Ortiz is one of three players returning for reigning champions Spain|
Last year, the all-conquering Spanish team was pretty much rampant right from the first tip-off, to the final buzzer of the gold medal game. Led by Tournament MVP Queralt Casas, they looked unstoppable and so it proved as they blasted their way to the top of the podium.
With Lucas Mondelo having since been promoted to the senior national team, the reins are handed to assistant Anna Caula who knows what it takes to deliver success. She will lose the majority of her team which was dominated by 1991 born players.
Interestingly, only three players are retained but they include the stellar talented Casas, center Laura Gil and small forward Mariona Ortiz - a trio which also led Spain to a silver medal on the global stage at the U19 World Championship Women last year in Chile.
Spain will be going for their fourth successive Final appearance and will rely heavily on an influx of players stepping up from the U18 European Championship Women where they won the bronze medal having been expected to also win gold.
The most prominent figure is Astou Ndour but she will not participate after missing the recent U18 European Championship in Bucharest with an injury.
The other Spanish team player who made the All-Tournament Team at last year's U18 European Championship Women in Oradea was Andrea Vilaro and ever since she stepped out as a 16-year-old, she has shown her leadership qualities. Her hard-nosed approach to the game provides the kind of glue to keep the team moving if ever the chips are down.
Yurena Diaz will step into the backcourt with her defence, playmaking abilities and outside shooting also hugely important.
Last year was arguably a little underwhelming for Latvia. Having won bronze medals during 2009 and 2010, they went from aspirations of a third successive podium finish to the reality of a mediocre twelfth place finish.
Certainly it was a slightly disappointing end to the youth careers of current senior national team players such as Sabine Niedola and Kristine Vitola.
Now Latvia must move on and in a potentially tricky group, they will have to be at their best to progress. The task of reaching the second round lies mainly in the hands of small forward Dita Rozenberga and rising talents such as 1994 born centre Asnate Fomina who is capable of posting performances beyond her years.
Equally Sabine Dukate will provide nice offensive options since she has the range to score big from downtown.