Euroleague Women Final Four
|Ros Casares trusted the team to Natalia Hejkova two months before the Final Four and didn't hide the fact that her track record in EuroLeague Women was the main reason |
Natalia Hejkova has been here before.
She's coached at a lot of Final Fours in her long career and won four times, twice with Ruzomberok and twice with Sparta&K M.R. Vidnoje.
This time, the Slovakian is at the helm of Ros Casares and of the teams taking part, the Valencia side is probably the underdog.
Ros haven't beaten Friday's opponents Halcon Avenida this season.
A Final Four is a special event, though.
Nothing matters up to this point, according to Hejkova.
"Perfumerias (Avenida) have beaten us three times this season, but we must learn from our mistakes and not repeat them on Friday," she said.
"We are in a competition that is decided in a weekend, hence, what you have done in the past counts for little."
The Salamanca outfit beat Ros in the Supercopa and then swept their regular-season series in the Liga Femenina.
Sparta&K go into their clash with hosts UMMC Ekaterinburg having won four EuroLeague Women titles in a row.
Hejkova led them to their first two triumphs and after Laszlo Ratgeber guided them to a third, Pokey Chatman steered them to a fourth last year over Ros Casares in Valencia.
Even Sparta&K's rivals would have to admit that the club has done well just to make it this far in 2011.
There is no Diana Taurasi - Sparta&K's MVP of the last two Final Fours.
There is no Sylvia Fowles, or Janel McCarville - a player who had an outstanding title game one year ago.
There is no Marina Karpunina, the Russia international and Sparta&K defensive ace who went down with a serious knee injury before the season.
Sparta&K do have talent, and a great coach in Chapman, but like Ros, they have yet to beat their Final Four opponents this season.
"In this Final Four there is a curious circumstance," Hejkova said.
"Sparta&K have yet to beat Ekaterinburg and we have not beaten Salamanca.
"Perhaps the time has come to do that."
On paper, one team appears to have the best chance.
UMMC are the hosts and they have a star-studded roster led by an excellent coach, Gundars Vetra.
Three years in a row, Sparta&K have beaten UMMC in the Semi-Finals so Vetra's team has plenty of incentive to get a win on Friday and then again on Sunday.
"Ekaterinburg are favorites because they have a roster of great players but it remains to be seen if they can play like a team," Hejkova said.
"They will also have the pressure of their fans and the club owners that have invested a lot."
More than anything, and this is where Sparta&K may have the advantage, it's important to have the right mindset going into the game.
The team that has the best concentration and focus has the best chance.
"In this competition, you need to be mentally very strong because all the teams are very nervous during these crucial games," Hejkova said.