|Having averaged 11.8 points and 5.9 rebounds per game, Queralt Casas was named MVP at last year's U20 European Championship Women|
By Paul Nilsen
Reigning U20 European Champion and MVP Queralt Casas is determined to repeat last year's glorious gold medal when she takes to the floor with Spain for one final fling at youth level, competing at the U20 European Championship Women in Debrecen, Hungary.
And, you wouldn't bet against the guard leading her team to more success during a summer which has already been eventful and promises even more.
For Casas has experienced a WNBA try-out with the Minnesota Lynx and whatever happens in Debrecen, she can also look forward to stepping out with EuroLeague Women finalists Rivas Ecopolis during coming months and playing once more under the watchful eye of head coach Miguel Mendez.
"Being with the Lynx was undoubtedly one of the best experiences of my life both on and off the court," claimed Casas.
"It was my pleasure to train with some of the best players in the world and they were lovely to me, as were the coaching staff.
"Rivas Ecopolis is a good club and I'm very excited for this forthcoming season. I feel that it is going to be a good year.
"I collaborated with coach Mendez previously at the U18 European Championship Women in 2010 and despite losing in the final, we had a good tournament.
"I really hope that Rivas will be one of the best teams in both Spain and in Europe. I am very excited and eager to start the season with my new team," she added.
So, heady times indeed for a player who will once again be the driving force for Spain and is seeking an astonishing sixth consecutive youth championship final appearance.
Looking Back At Last Summer
Reflecting on last year's U20 European Championship Women in Serbia, it's clear the unassuming Casas still has a special place in her heart for the accomplishment and is now focusing on a return back to the top of the podium.
She said: "For any player, there is nothing better than being a champion.
"It's a great satisfaction to win gold after disputing these Championships and working hard every morning, afternoon and evening for one and a half months.
"I finished the U20 European Championship Women very happy on a personal level and proud with the team and coaching staff.
"Of course I wouldn't have achieved the MVP award without my team mates - in fact, I wouldn't have the MVP title nor the gold, so I can't say anything about me individually.
"This time, I think we have a team similar to last year," Casas continued.
"Mariona (Ortiz) and Laura (Gil) are very good players who both also won the gold last year in Novi Sad. But overall, the 12 players who make up this team are good since each player contributes their part and that is very good."
In addition to nine new faces in the squad, there's a new play-caller in the hot-seat in the shape of Anna Caula, although she is hardly a stranger to the players, which means Casas is expecting a seamless transition.
"I think it will be similar for us. Anna Caula was in Novi Sad last year as assistant coach to Lucas Mondelo.
"Anna is a very good coach who has taken a few years coaching in the Spanish professional league and understands the sport well. I have no doubt that she will do it perfectly."
The Spanish Coaching Experience
The quality of coaching which young Spanish players receive is something recognised not only in Europe but around the world with coaches of considerable repute passing on their considerable expertise. Not least, the likes of Jose Hernandez, Lucas Mondelo and Miguel Mendez - all of whom have reached finals of EuroLeague Women.
Unsurprisingly, Casas is grateful the Spanish Federation has a structure in place which facilitates the development of young players through high level coaching which benefits both national team performances and contributes to making the top-flight Liga Femenina consistently one of the best women's leagues around.
"There's no doubt much of that quality of the Spanish league has been thanks to coaches like them," agreed Casas.
"They understand so much about basketball and make it possible for the player to also understand the game well - in addition to the physical conditions and the talent we have.
"It's very much appreciated."
|This year's U20 European Championship Women will be Casas' sixth and last Youth Championship|
It's not only at the European level where Casas has excelled. Last year, she barely had time to draw breath as she hot-footed her way from Serbia to South America for the U19 World Championship Women.
And, despite having to cope with fatigue and turning the page on the floor with a different coach, Casas still helped her team reach yet another final, taking a silver medal behind the USA.
"It was a bit strange since me, Mariona (Ortiz) and Laura (Gil) all went to Chile directly from Novi Sad and we could only train one day before the tournament started" recalled Casas.
"We had to change our ‘game chip' quickly in terms of every play the coach asked for and the respective roles we had in the team.
"Not to mention that we arrived mentally and physically tired from the U20 European Championship Women.
"For me, it was perhaps more difficult off the court, but still, it was a very good experience."
This time there won't be any globe-trekking - Debrecen will be the final destination for Casas before she inevitably steps up to the senior national team one day.
And, when the buzzer sounds during Spain's last game, it will mark the end of a truly remarkable youth career which few players could ever look back on with quite as much satisfaction and pride.