By Adrian Popa
|Dominika Miloszewska featured in four of Poland's first six games at the U18 European Championship Women and was their top scorer and rebounder after the first two rounds|
Poland came to the U18 European Championship Women with a single goal in mind. They just wanted to avoid relegation. Now they find themselves in the Quarter-Finals.
How did that happen? Well, the secret lies in playing with heart, believing in yourself and, last but not least, have a little bit of fun on the basketball court.
The moments that followed the Polish side's win over Slovenia in the Preliminary Round are unforgettable.
The FIBA Europe TV crew took Karolina Wilk aside for the post-game interview. She was all smiles and happiness. However she died her best to keep a serious face in front of the camera.
But she was not left alone by her teammates. They all joined behind her, a bunch of effervescent teenagers, and they tried really hard to let her go through the interview. As soon as she pronounced the last word though, the riot errupted.
Team spirit. Joy. Passion.
"We came here to avoid relegation. That win against Slovenia helped us a lot in the Preliminary Round," said Poland head coach Adam Zieminski.
Poland came to Oradea with eight players born in 1994. This is a generation for the future. A further four players, all of them born in the same year, stayed home because of different injuries.
Still, they are not playing the Classification Round for 13th to 16th place. Not even in the one for 9th to 12th place.
A minor miracle? Yes, according to coach Zieminski.
"Our federation, our basketball journalists, everybody back home, were just hoping that we will stay in the elite. They did not put any pressure on us, knowing the situation. Now, they will believe for sure that we made some miracle here, at this tournament," he explained.
They advanced to the Quarter-Finals after a tough game against the home team, Romania.
It was a do-or-die encounter, but with a small advantage for the Polish side, as they could qualify even if they lost the game by a small margin.
But that wasn't an option for Karolina, Monika, Dominika and the other members of the fun gang.
"I am so happy I don't even remember what happened on the court. We started the game with Romania a little bit slower, but we proved we are a team. We never ceased to support each other and at every time-out we kept telling each other that we cannot lose," said Wilk after the win with the hosts.
This game offered another image of the exuberant Polish team. When Monika Skrzecz beat the buzzer with her huge three-point shot at the end of the third quarter, she was suffocated by her colleagues on the bench.
They were so unbelievably happy that the coaches had to intervene and remind them that there is still another quarter to play.
But once again, as a team, they held on, and in the end the screaming and the laughter of the happy Polish girls were an oasis in the silenced "Antonio Alexe Arena" in Oradea.
From now on there is nothing to worry about. They will still be welcomed home as heroes, no matter what the result in their quarter-final clash with mighty France is.
"They are one of the strongest teams here. We played them in a friendly game and it was a debacle for us. We know what to expect and I just hope that we will play better than in preparations against them," said coach Zieminsky.
But that is for the coach to worry. The members of the fun gang are busy preparing another big miracle and... having fun in the process. After all, who can stop them from dreaming?