By Rafa Gallego
|Anna Cruz, a favourite with Rivas Ecopolis fans, does not get carried away by her team's famous victory on the opening day of the EuroLeague Women Final Eight |
When Rivas Ecopolis picked up their epic first EuroLeague Women Finals win against heavyweight hosts Galatasaray Medical Park, it represented the biggest success in their short history.
Of course there could be arguments made to defend the notion that winning the Copa de la Reina in 2011 should still retain that honour since it was, in fact, the team's first and only title.
But, if you put it into perspective, beating a powerhouse like Galatasaray at their home, in front of their fans, on the first day of participation by Rivas Ecopolis in a EuroLeague Women Finals, in a historic Final Eight, against a team containing Diana Taurasi and with the eyes of the entire women's basketball word watching, that's certainly a nice group of facts to be taken into account.
Remember, we're talking here about a club that a little bit more than a decade ago was playing in the Spanish fourth division before advancing to Liga Femenina (Spain's top flight) during 2003 - only to be relegated the following year.
A team that only played internationally for the first time during the 2008-09 season, participating in the EuroCup Women.
Rivas then of course made it to the EuroLeague Women but hadn't previously managed to win a single play-off series in any European competition until this year.
Maybe the most astonishing fact is that this is the story of a club who has not received a big investment from any rich owner but is a project based on a plan which continues to try and take slow but rational steps, staying loyal to a concept which is delivering success.
Rivas Ecópolis is the result of a mix that includes a lot of hard work by the managers and coaches and the crucial collaboration by a small, but solid and committed, number of sponsors.
Among others, one of the leading thinkers behind Rivas Ecópolis (if not the main one) is General Manager José Juanas.
He has played a major role in the club, choosing the right people year after year and remains loyal to his vision of putting Rivas on the map.
"This is such a historic moment, but as always in our little history, we will not get carried away," he said cautiously.
"We want this to be a long-term project, to make it last in time, and victories like this one encourage us to keep believing in ourselves."
"We are so proud that a little town near to Madrid with just 75,000 inhabitants is able to compete with big teams from big cities.
"The secret is none other than being consistent and never letting ourselves down when we have been through any bad moments."
This long-term thinking has been very much the key and because of that, the club has been developing their youth teams, experiencing growth during the last couple of years, with the idea of having a senior team in the near future based on players coming from its own structure, and going to the market for some big names to surround them -but not to create the base of the team.
Not changing seven players a year is one of the reasons this team can compete against higher-budget talent-laden clubs.
But, meanwhile, a solid bet on national players has been paying dividents. Right now, one of the main faces of the team is Anna Cruz.
Being an unselfish player, team-oriented and never reluctant to put in effort, she's most definitely one of the most loved players by the locals. She also admires and appreciates the progress the club has made.
"Little by little, Rivas has been growing and taking a new step every year," explains Cruz.
"It is consolidating as a great team capable of logging great wins against any powerhouse that may enter the court feeling too relaxed.
"We played a really serious game against Galatasaray and, above all, we played as a team. Our intention was that they didn't feel comfortable in any moment, to lower their percentages, and we did it!
"We came here to enjoy this tournament without pressure," continued Cruz.
"But also to try to compete and we're going game by game.
"The final standings will say where we deserve to be, but we're going to fight in all of the games."