|08 August 2012|
|Monika Grigalauskyte has already competed in four Youth European Championships, having made her debut with Lithuania at the 2008 U16 European Championship Women|
By Paul Nilsen
A significant chunk of hope and expectation will be placed on the reliable shoulders of Monika Grigalauskyte when Lithuania step out in Debrecen at the U20 European Championship Women.
And, that is unsurprising since she was the leading rebounder at last year's edition in Novi Sad and comes into this year's tournament off the back of a wonderful double-double season with her club Lemminkainen.
"The EuroCup Women has been a very good experience for me," the forward agreed.
"I played against older and stronger players and this meant I was able to learn a lot from them."
Now she is tasked with trying to take Lithuania forward and improve on their arguably disappointing eleventh place finish last year.
"Of course, we always go to a tournament wanting to win a medal and it doesn't matter if it's gold or bronze.
"I think last summer we had a good chance to do this but we lost a tough game against Ukraine and it stopped us.
"But the most important thing was that at least we stayed in Division A."
"This year we have a lot of players from last year, around six players and we know each other pretty well," she continued.
"We have to play hard, do our best and never give up. It's so important for us to be a real team and perhaps then we can reach the Quarter-Finals."
"Our first game against our neighbour Latvia will be very important as will the game against Belarus.
"The last game for us is against Spain which will be difficult but then I think every game will be very difficult and I hope for the best."
Whatever happens, this will be the final chapter of her youth career and Grigalauskyte can still remember four years ago when she was racked with nerves as she prepared to make her debut in a Lithuanian vest.
"Yes, I will always remember my first game at the U16 European Championship Women. It was against Turkey and I was so scared," she recalled.
"But, when the coach let me into the game, all the fear was gone, and I actually enjoyed the game.
"I also particularly remember a game against France at U18 level when we won and we were all so happy.
"I don't remember all the highs and lows, since there have just been better or worse games."
TARGETING THE SENIOR NATIONAL TEAM
While Grigalauskyte will be steadfastly focused on the short term goal of attaining success with Lithuania in Hungary and ending her youth career on a high, the next step will be the challenging task of trying to break into the senior national team.
"It's a very big step for me since there are many good players in the senior team.
"But, if I work hard then anything is possible and I hope next summer I will practice with the best Lithuanian women's basketball players.
"I think during the next few years, the senior team will be younger, because we have very good players who are all born in the1990's."
Meanwhile if making the roster for the EuroBasket Women Final Round in France next year is beyond her, Grigalauskyte has still managed to attract considerable attention from women's basketball fans already.
She is one of the most popular players to have modelled in her basketball uniform - something she fully endorses.
"It was so much fun and I liked it a lot," she smiled.
"It was something totally different but I support this idea and I think it helps popularize women's basketball."
For now though, Grigalauskyte is more intent on the camera lens capturing her crashing the boards and providing the interior scoring presence that can help Lithuania make a sizeable splash in Debrecen.