|Maja Erkic of Rivas Ecopolis is looking to haunt her former teammates when they meet in the play-offs.|
By Paul Nilsen
Rivas Ecopolis head coach Miguel Mendez has admitted he can't be sure of how his team will perform when they lock horns with Famila Schio in a mouth-watering play-off series as both clubs bid to secure successive appearances at Final Eight.
Having guided Rivas to the Final during his rookie season in the hot-seat and having since endured some key challenges during this second campaign, the roller-coaster ride is set to continue for Mendez as the plane wheels touch down on Italian soil.
He said, "It's going to be a really tough series for us because home court advantage is always very important and Schio are a team loaded with a very good roster and also have great support from their fans.
"We don't have the same expert roster we had last season which was very important approaching these types of games, since experience is very important at this time.
"But, we do have a core of young players who are very hungry and really looking forward to winning. Now is their opportunity to see what they can show in a top-level game like this one.
"We know that we don't have a Final Eight MVP like Asjha Jones anymore, or the know-how that Elisa Aguilar provided in any circumstance.
"We've been having some troubles with our inside game, with injuries and departure of players, and I guess right now, we're pretty much a question mark, even to ourselves.
"Therefore we're facing this play-off series not really knowing how far we can reach" admitted Mendez.
"What's better defining this team this time is how capable these players are of competing - we've been doing that all season long...when we've won, but also when we've lost. We can be brilliant or playing worse [than the opponent], but this team has competed in every single game.
"But, I go back to the same thing, with our current problems with our inside game, it's hard for me to guess at what level we can be in these play-offs."
Meanwhile Slovenian Maja Erkic is looking to return to haunt Famila Schio when she visits her former team. The shooter played against Rivas at the Final Eight in Istanbul last season, although now she is ready to torch her ex-employers and deny them successive appearances in the season finale.
"It's always nice to play against the team where you previously played and I have good memories from Schio" said Erkic.
"It's great to come back to the city, to see the fans and to play against my former team-mates. I'm very excited.
"It's hard to compare both teams since Schio have changed a lot of players, whilst Rivas have new players.
"We know their good Italian players like [Raffaella] Masciadri, [Laura] Macchi or [Giorgia] Sottana who have a lot of experience, but we have young and fast players in their positions.
"I just think these will be interesting games, because on paper, we look more or less the same and without big differences" added Erkic.
"We're two good teams with talent and inspiration and we will both be really into it, because we're both looking for the Final Eight.
"There will be a lot of people in Schio, and I hope that our fans also create a great atmosphere to support us too."
Now would be a good time for Erkic to re-discover her form. She's had limited opportunities and production after returning from long-term injury.
"Yes, after getting injured with the Slovenian national team last summer, I took some time to really get healed and it meant five months without basketball.
"I came to Rivas about six weeks ago and I'm doing anything I can to work hard at every practice and I'm taking it step by step, I don't want to push, be crazy and get lost in the game. My desire is to play at my best as soon as possible."