By Paul Nilsen
|Amaya Valdemoro will meet Celine Dumerc in the Play-Off series between Rivas and Bourges.|
Spanish national team star Amaya Valdemoro will make her long awaited return to EuroLeague Women action this week but is still trying to find her game legs.
After recently taking to the floor for Rivas Ecopolis in Liga Femenina after completing her lengthy rehabilitation from a double wrist fracture, the veteran knows she still has a long way to go until she is back in the groove.
"I'm trying to find my rhythm back after being side-lined for so long" admitted Valdermoro.
"I've worked really hard, and I'm feeling well back in the court.
"But, I know I still need more games to be in better shape."
The Madrid based club faces Bourges Basket in Round 2 with both teams seeking to land a coveted place at the Final Eight - and Valdemoro is expecting a really tough test.
She said, "Bourges are such a good team. I know many of their players, they have depth, and they have Celine Dumerc, who is such an important factor.
"I believe that we are two teams who can hurt each other in many different ways on the court".
"Obviously having home court advantage is a good start for us" continued Valdemoro.
"From that point, we know that the play-off will depend on how intense we are from the start of the first game, but we know that it is up to us to make it or not to the Final Eight, which is our ultimate goal in EuroLeague Women this season."
Another Rivas veteran echoed the sentiments of Valdemoro. However Aisha Jones is a player desperately trying not to cast her eyes eastwards towards the alluring possibilities which may lie in wait in Istanbul.
"Personally, I don't want to even think about the Final Eight yet since we have such a tough series coming up right now" insisted Jones.
"Obviously, our main goal is to make it to the last round, we know we should be there, and there wouldn't be anything to celebrate if we advance, we have to compete until the last game we can play".
"I know Bourges well, I've played against them many times before, and they always represent tough opposition.
"They are probably one of the most difficult teams we could face in this round and so we're going to have to stay focused all game long if we want to advance to the next round."
Jones added, "I guess our best strength as a team is that we can play great basketball no matter who is in front of us. But at the same time, we have to find a way to maintain that level on a regular basis.
It's certainly been an up and down campaign for Rivas this year and especially in Liga Femenina where they have fallen to less distinguished teams on a number of occasions which could mean they will miss out on EuroLeague Women action next season.
For head coach Miguel Méndez, it's been a learning curve since while he has the considerable experience of Valdemoro, Jones and Elisa Agilar, he also has a number of younger players and he is adamant his team still have scope to fully blossom.
He said, "It's a difficult play-off because we're facing a team with lots of history in this competition who have winning experience.
"Bourges are an older team, not like us, who are young and still growing".
Equally, he is acutely aware of the danger posed by his French opponent and was quick to highlight their numerous strengths,
"They have many players and a deep bench which allows them to distribute the minutes.
"They have Celine Dumerc who I think is the best point guard in Europe, a sharp shooter in Cathy Joens, who we know well in Rivas as she played here for two years, versatile forwards like Kaltsidou, and powerful inside players.
"I think they are a quite good squad, loaded with athleticism and a good coach, it's going to be a tough challenge for us".