|15 August 2012|
Two of last year's semi-finalists in Russia and Serbia lock horns in Group D of the U20 European Championship Women which could mean a real battle between the Slovak Republic and Great Britain to avoid the relegation round although anything could happen as the latter proved last summer with an unexpected top eight finish.
|Ksenia Tikhonenko made her debut with Russia at the U16 European Championship Women in 2009|
Last summer's silver medalist Russia will have to turn an entirely new page in Debrecen since last year's team was composed of eleven 1991 born players.
This means a new-look team and one essentially drawn mainly from the team that competed last year at the U19 World Championship after finishing fifth at the U18 European Championship Women in the Slovak Republic two summers ago.
However, it isn't just the 1992 generation who will step out, but also the likes of 1993 born center Ksenia Tikhonenko, one of the best prospects Russia has. She made the All Tournament Team during her first youth championship back in Naples during 2009 and has never looked back since.
Top scorer at the U19 World Championship in Chile last year, she also excelled at club level, one of the few youth players who can say they have gained minutes not only in EuroLeague Women but at a Final Eight after stepping out with Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje.
Ekaterina Fedorenkova will also be a big scoring threat and she is in good form having fired 12 points against Turkey recently in an impressive preparation win in Istanbul.
Forward Yulia Poluyanova is another powerful frontcourt player to look out for the Russians who should be one of the favourites and especially with the teams they have to face in the group stage although they will be taking nothing for granted.
Having gained promotion to Division A winning the U20 European Championship Women Division B in 2010, few had expected Great Britain to survive the next year in Novi Sad but they did meaning they return to compete again at the elite level in Debrecen.
But, it will be even tougher this time around and achieving a somewhat incredible top eight finish like last summer looks potentially an uphill task. Especially since the talented Ella Clark has lost her fitness race and has been ruled out with injury which will further blunt an already limited offensive armoury.
That poses a headache for new play-caller Frans Griffioen although the Dutchman who succeeds Damian Jennings has plenty of experience of remaining in Division A with the Netherlands.
Temi Fagbenle was the stand-out player last summer but she has been representing the national team at the London Olympics where she has continued her development.
Perhaps the biggest boost will be point guard Renee Busch directing traffic from the point guard position having been another impressive performer in Serbia last year while alongside her will be Erin McGarrachan with the free-scoring Scottish player in excellent form during preparation.
|Barbora Balintova led a balanced Slovak attack at last year's U20 European Championship Women, averaging 7.6 points|
The Slovak Republic narrowly avoided the Division B trap door last year both at U20 and also U18 level but in mitigation, they did have a very young team at the U20 European Championship Women including 1994 and even 1995 born players.
They included the talented shooting skills of Barbora Balintova who actually top scored in Serbia and also center Zofia Hruscakova who, a few weeks ago at the U18 European Championship Women in Bucharest, averaged more double-doubles than anybody else.
Consequently Slovak Republic should have that little added experience now under their belts but a lack of firepower which almost cost them so dearly last time could rear its ugly head once again.
Beata Janoscikova of Good Angels Kosice is back to help out, having not played in a youth tournament since back during 2009 and that should help since she can certainly find some production.
Martina Kissova who is also with the Good Angels is a small forward who can help to make a difference as well.
The Serbian team gave the home crowd plenty to cheer last summer by rolling all the way to the semi-finals after being propelled by the powerful and skilful Sara Krnjic who, as a 1991 born player, is sadly no longer eligible to play at youth level.
At least Snezana Colic who led the team in assists will continue in the backcourt and, she is capable of an improved performance in Debrecen. For while she was an essential part of the team last year with her impressive playmaking skills, she didn't shoot the ball as well as she is capable of and so this talented player can definitely be a big factor.
The significant challenge will be replacing the rebounding prowess of Krnjic and also Tijana Ajdukovic who combined to claim an astonishing 170 rebounds in nine games in Novi Sad.
Jovana Jaksic could be a welcome addition. She has never played youth tournaments for Serbia but the swingman finally gets the chance and offers welcome experience from EuroCup Women.
Meanwhile Natasa Kovacevic and Aleksandra Stanacev should both be added to the roster as a reward for their exploits in helping Serbia take the bronze medal at the U18 European Championship Women earlier this month.
Kovacevic is a solid and smart small forward who loves dealing with the intangibles in any game while Stanacev is an assured playmaker who made the All Tournament Team in Bucharest.