Lithuania In Good Spirits And Focused On Prize

24 July 2008

With their place in the semi-finals of the U18 European Championship for Women already booked, Lithuania were able to enjoy themselves on Thursday morning.

The players, coaches and various managers all took part in several games of knock-out to end their practice session.  

The mood may have been light hearted then, but don't be fooled - the Lithuanians are fully focused on the

Marina Solopova (Lithuania)
Marina Solopova has averaged 14.8 points for Lithuania in Nitra.
task at hand over the next few days.

Their first order of business will be to hold off the Czech Republic and take top honours in Group E.

"We won't approach this game any differently than the others even though we already have our place in the semi-finals," said head coach Ramume Kumpiene.

Being pushed to the limits by the Slovak Republic on Wednesday - prevailing 55-52 in their closest game of the competition so far - hasn't fazed the Lithuanians as much as it has confirmed something they felt they knew all along and which more people should concede.

"The Slovak Republic is a good team and played very well against us, so we weren't surprised to see them have a chance to win late in the game. I think the fact that people were shocked that we almost lost shows they think there are only four or five good teams at these types of tournaments. But all teams are capable of winning at any point."

While they are fully intent on beating the Czechs tonight - and thereby make it six wins out of six in Nitra - their real focus is already on preparing for the semi-finals.

"If we see against the Czech Republic that things aren't really going the way we want and that the game is beyond our reach, we might rest our key players as there are more important games to be played still," added Kumpiene.

For the head coach and several of her players - Aurime Rinkeviciute, Marina Solopova and Giedre Paugaite to mention a few - this is their second time at the U18 after finishing 10th in Novi Sad last summer.

Asked how this year's experience compares to 2007, Rinkeviciute has seen a marked difference, especially in the team's behaviour.

"The team has more belief. We feel we can beat any team this time around. I don't know if that was true last year," said Lithuania's leading scorer. 

"At the same time, it's just normal to grow in confidence as we are getting older. But having been through the process before definitely helps."

"It won't be easy to win though because there will be no weak teams in the semi-finals. "

For Kumpiene, this year's impressive run has been the reward after years of hard work.
She led Lithuania's U16 side to a third-place finish in 2006 before taking over the reins of the U18 team last year.

"Some of these girls have experienced success at U16 level (in 2006) and are hungry for more. Since that tournament, we have all wanted to be in the position we're in now. But it isn't finished yet and there's more work to be done."

Should they win over the course of the weekend, Kumpiene and her girls will likely dedicate the win to Rasa, the head of the national team's delegation, who was unable to be a part of the trip to Nitra as she had to stay back home and help organise matters for the men's senior side competing in the Beijing Olympics.

"Rasa couldn't come with us so instead she gave us a teddy bear at the airport. We named it after her and it helps us think of her. It makes us feel like she's around with us - in spirit at least," Rinkeviciute explained.

With that in mind, everyone has been warned - keep your eyes peeled and you might just see a unique teddy bear celebration come Sunday.

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