|15 August 2012|
Last year's podium finishing Poland are joined by newly promoted Sweden, an ambitious Netherlands and a talented Italy team in what looks one of the most exciting of all the groups at the U20 European Championship Women in Debrecen.
|The hopes of Poland to repeat last year's success lie on the shoulders of Magdalena Zietara|
Having secured bronze last summer in Novi Sad and with a large number of returnees, Poland could be one of the front-runners to reach the podium again, with some suggesting that they have the potential to go all the way to the Final.
But, as with every U20 European Championship Women, a team must be at the peak of their form to accomplish that goal. Any loss of focus or drop in performance and dreams will be over in a heartbeat with a relegation fight possibly proving an unwelcome replacement.
EuroLeague Women rising star Magdalena Zietara will lead the way for Poland and while she won't get to step out in the elite club competition next season with Lotos Gdynia, she certainly made an impact last season with her all-round skills which allow her to influence so many aspects of the game.
Last summer, Malgorzata Misiuk made the All Tournament team and was the stand-out player but she is now too old to return and so a lot really will rest on the shoulders of Zietara. She will be well supported by 1.83m forward Dorota Mistygacz who loves to get the dirty work done on the glass and defensively.
Paulina Kuras is likely to pull the strings in the backcourt having averaged three assists per game last year and she comes off a solid first season with Artego Bydgoszcz in the top Polish league.
There is an argument to suggest that the Netherlands punched slightly above their weight last summer with a superb fifth placed finish at the U18 European Championship Women and they incorporated quite a few 1993 and 1994 born players in this summer's U20 squad, testament to the strength of their emerging younger teams.
It's perhaps a shame they have had to say farewell to team leader Chatilla van Grinsven who landed a tournament double-double at last year's U20 European Championship Women but they should still have enough to post another strong performance this year in Debrecen.
The leadership will come from Marlou De Kleijn and Zera Butter who led in assists and steals last summer and they will be important in setting the tone once more.
One thing the Netherlands will have to do is raise their perimeter game since it was truly awful in Serbia and some might argue affected their chances of a quarter-final place.
That situation could be resolved with the exciting addition of Loyce Bettonvil, a forward who can knock shots down from outside with great consistency and who led the team at the U18 European Championship Women last summer with over 11 points and seven rebounds per game. She will also get the opportunity to play alongside her older sister Jill in Debrecen.
|Irene Cigliani is back for Italy, having had to end last year's U20 European Championship Women early due to injury |
It's almost a complete new brush for Italy. After finishing seventh last time out with a team overwhelming 1991 born, the baton will be passed primarily to the 1993 generation that finished a mid-table tenth at the U18 European Championship Women last summer.
It's full of players who also have experience from the U19 World Championship in Chile last summer including the Dotto twins of Francesca and Caterina in the backcourt.
Small forward and late bloomer Giulia Maffenini is the most talented of the 1992 talent pool, top scoring in Chile last summer and she could be a key player in Debrecen while another small forward in the form of Irene Cigliani comes back into the mix having had her campaign in Novi Sad come to an unexpected premature end because of injury.
It's likely Italy will build their challenge on solid defence and an uncompromising style since they don't necessarily have the kind of firepower to run and gun with their opponents.
But, they should prove tough to breakdown and perhaps it will be next year when they can really rise to prominence rather than this summer.
They can at least draw confidence from last week's success at the Caorle tournament when they beat both Portugal and Great Britain.
It's been something of a boom-time for women's basketball in Sweden during the last 12 months.
The senior national team recently qualified for their first Eurobasket Women Final Round since 1987, there was gold and a promotion last summer at the U20 European Championship Women Division B while Sweden also made the semi-finals at the U18 European Championship Women in Oradea.
While the hugely influential force of Cleopatra Forsman-Goga has now departed the youth ranks, it is hoped WNBA draftee and EuroLeague Women performer Farhiya Abdi will continue to be the driving force to ensure that Sweden not only retain their Division A status but post a good performance having bounced straight back from relegation during 2010.
In addition to Abdi who led the team in scoring last summer to make the All Tournament Team in Ohrid, there is also the energy and versatility of Binta Drammeh who will score points and provide athletic rebounding for the team.
1993 born center Amanda Zahui will also be one of the star attractions after making spectacular progress during the last year. She was outstanding for Telge Basket in EuroCup Women last season.
Sweden has recently beaten both Russia and Belarus during a tournament last week in Istanbul.