By Paul Nilsen
|All smiles after Ruzomberok beat Dynamo GUVD elebrate on aggregate over two legs|
Whilst not exactly a fairytale journey, the progress of MBK Ruzomberok to the Semi-Finals of the EuroCup Women is deserving of the label.
The Slovak club and its fans have really been put through every emotion during recent times and that theme has continued this season when the phrase ‘roller-coaster ride' would barely do justice to the journey they have undertaken to the last four of the competition.
Having posted a strong campaign last season before eventually bowing out to eventual champions Dynamo Kursk in the Quarter-Finals, the club then endured some financial challenges last summer, but have shown terrific resilience to this adversity.
Their most significant move was to place their trust in the hands of Stefan Svitek, the play-caller who helped to kick-start the rise to prominence of fellow Slovakian side Good Angels Kosice in the EuroLeague Women.
Having lost his job in Kosice and then failing to get Hungary to EuroBasket Women in France, it had looked as if the wheels had come off for Svitek during what was developing into a decidedly rough patch.
This most testing time of his career was extended when Ruzomberok started their EuroCup Women campaign with successive defeats, something which even after just two games, left their qualification hopes hanging by the finest of threads.
Admittedly dealt an ace by the subsequent withdrawal of Group H rivals Elitzur Ramla due to off-court difficulties, Svitek and his players grabbed their opportunity to progress with both hands. Incredibly, they have still done it the hard way after failing to win a single game on home soil.
Instead, their success has come on the road via a string of sensational victories. Very often these have been must-win games too, their first a 70-62 Group win at Vilnius Kibirkstis followed by an even more convincing 77-65 success at Antakya. Then, in the Eighth Finals, they took down Dynamo-GUVD 69-60 before the cherry on the cake came with a 79-57 blowout of Nantes last week.
|Reflects on what looks to be a break-through season: Katarina Tetemondová|
In all those games, hard-nosed defence paved the way for victory, never giving up more than 65 points to any team and further helped by a sparkling 10.6 steals per game. Combined with their tendency to look after the ball supremely well, they have given up very few fast-break scores to their opponents.
They have also attained these results with a particularly young roster, perhaps borne out of necessity due to limited finances. Only Swedish national team player Kadidja Andersson and Sequoia Holmes are over the age of 25, and this underlines just how proud the club should be of their achievement in booking a double date with last years' runners-up Kayseri Kaski spor.
One of those players doing a good job is 24-year old Katarina Tetemondova.
The Slovakia national team forward has been a tower of strength, leading the team in blocked shots and pulling down six rebounds per game. Meanwhile her shooting range of 41.2% from downtown has been a real 'X-factor'.
Reflecting on making it to the last four and showing incredible mental toughness after falling some 14 points behind in the tie against Nantes, Tetemondova feels the quality of the competition has also been particularly high this year.
"We did not start the best in France, but we did not give up and we were able to turn the match" she explained.
"Some of the teams have the quality to be able to play in EuroLeague Women whether it is their facilities or on-court quality."
"I think I have more responsibility now and therefore I take this season as a breakthrough for me."
That kind of feedback from Tetemondova will also be music to the ears of national team head coach Ivan Vojtko who will most probably utilise the player as a key component in his strategy for success at EuroBasket Women in France.
The exploits of the club has also had fans reminiscing of their former glory days when names such as Elena Marencikova, Alena Kovacova and a young Zuzana Zirkova helped land consecutive EuroLeague Women titles during 1999 and 2000.
Consequently there's a real buzz back in the city, and unsurprisingly, club President Stanislav Bella is delighted the team is punching way above its' weight.
He said, "The basketball resurgence of MBK Ružomberok who for years has missed the semi-finals of European cup competitions, is an undeniable success.
"We have advanced much further than we could have wished and we have been doing it by standing against clubs whose resources are well advanced in comparison to ours.
"However, the girls have showed how well they can play!"