18 teams took part in the Challenge Round of the 2004 European Championship for U18 Women. Countries were divided into 3 groups of 6 teams. Group A played in Druskininkai, LTU, Group B in Léon, Spain and Group C in Novi Sad, Serbia and Montenegro.
After 6 days of play the 11 qualifiers for the final round emerged, as well as the medal favourites for the Championship which will take place 9th – 18th July 2004 in Bratislava, Slovak Republic.
The qualified teams are:
|1. Serbia & Montenegro|
|2 best 4th-placed teams|
|Turkey (Group B)|
|Hungary (Group C)|
Group A contained 3 very strong teams in Belarus, Ukraine and Russia. Belarus and Ukraine won silver and bronze medals respectively at the 2003 European Championship for U16 Girls, while Russia finished in 6th position.
Last year’s U16 Championship featured players born in 1987 and 1988, while this year’s U18 Championship is for those born in 1986 and 1987. Russia can count on a far more talented age group from 1986 and it was these players that led them to a 5-0 record, including a 102:75 rout of Ukraine.
Tatiana Bokareva was the key player for the Russians, and she averaged 18.6 ppg and 13.4prg, including a 21-rebound effort against Lithuania.
Belarus finished in 2nd place with a 4-1 record and narrowly lost to Russia, 72:79. The game was tied going into the 4th quarter, but Russia finished the stronger and held Belarus to just 7 points in the final period.
Anastasiya Verameyenka was one of the top players at last year’s U16 Championships. She has comfortably been able to make the leap to the next age group and was Belarus’ best player in qualification games. She averaged 20 ppg, 10.4 rpg, 3.4 bpg and 2.4 spg in 5 games.
Ukraine finished in 3rd to ensure automatic qualification to the final round in Bratislava. Similarly to Russia, they have been bolstered by the addition of several players born in 1986, most notably the inside-outside combination of Olexandra Gorbunova and Maryna Sazonenko.
Gorbunova led all players in scoring at the tournament at 22.8 ppg, while also pulling down 10.4 rpg. Sazonenko was the top passer, averaging 4.2 apg to go along with 17 ppg.
Croatia were 4th in the group, but were unable to take one of the two best fourth-placed team spots available, due to their inferior goal difference to Turkey (4th in Group B) and Hungary (4th in Group C).
France finished 5th at the last year’s U16 Championship in Turkey, but in the U18 category the team had few problems in recording a 5-0 record in Group B. They put on several dominating displays in their 5 games, including a 91:49 win over Turkey, 75:32 against Finland and 77:44 over Germany.
Sandrine Gruda was the team’s top scorer at 17.4 ppg. Providing valuable back-up was Jennifer Digbeu, younger sister of men’s national team player Alain “Air France” Digbeu. 12 years her brother’s junior, Digbeu averaged 11.2 ppg and 9.2 rpg in the 5 games.
Spain were second in the group with a 4-1 record. Germany overcame their demolition at the hands of France to finish in 3rd place and qualify for the final round. Turkey also qualified as they grabbed one of the best fourth-placed team spots.
Group C was hosted in Serbia & Montenegro and it was the home team that was the strongest. The gold medallists from the 2003 U16 European Championship rolled to 5 victories and comfortable qualification to Bratislava.
Perhaps more impressively, they did it without top player Jelena Dubljevic who broke a toe in the first game against Israel and was unable to play in the rest of the tournament.
Despite her absence, Serbia & Montenegro still won all their games by an average of 27 points, and Hungary was the only team who held them to a single digit margin of victory (65:56).
Bulgaria took 2nd spot in the group with a 4-1 record and Israel finished in third to grab the automatic qualification spots. Hungary finished in fourth place and also qualified as one of the two best fourth-placed finished teams.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the tournament was the non-performance of the Czech Republic. Since emerging from the former Czechoslovakia in 1993, the country has recorded 4 top-four finishes at the European Championship for U18 Women.
This time round they did not even qualify for the final round, finishing in 5th place in the group