The Senior Women's National Team is now in do or die mode going into their Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Ankara, Turkey. With a chance to get into the Olympics games for the first time since 2000, the SWNT has a very good chance to get into the Games this time around. Can Ball Ray takes a look at the team and their opponents in pool play right here ...
The Senior Women's National Team is taking their steps towards earning a spot in the London Olympics tomorrow. They will be playing for one of five spots to in their Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Ankara, Turkey and though they have a very good chance at making it to the Games it will not be easy.
The Qualifying Tournament will require that two teams advance from the four separate pools into the second round. From these teams advancing, five teams will be heading to London. Now that sounds easy enough but it's always tougher of course.
The SWNT will have it's toughest game against France one would imagine in pool play. France has been an international power (France is ranked 8th in the world according to FIBA) in recent years and will returning players that are both experienced in FIBA play and within the pro ranks as well. With a strong women's league in France, their players have the added benefit of being able to train at home through a full season of competition that way. Looking down their roster, all the players with the exception of three have been with a French pro team last season. Those other three not playing in France were playing in other pro leagues by the way making the entire team solid from one through twelve.
Mali, on the other hand, will be looked at as the weakest of the three teams in Canada's pool. Mali had been dealt a blow to their preparation plans for the Qualifying Tournament when the team had visa issues for the majority of their players to enter France where they had planned to train leading up to the event. That had been reported nine days ago and there wasn't any word of it being resolved. That would possibly mean an underprepared Mali team. What they do have though is three players playing in foreign leagues - two in France and one player in the WNBA though she's not on the current Connecticut Sun roster - so they could be formidable regardless.
What the SWNT should have this time around great depth and a wealth of international experience and that is a major plus heading into an event like this.
Looking down the roster you see many familiar names: Teresa Gabrielle, Kim Smith, Alisha and Tamara Tatham, Lizanne Murphy, Natalie Achonwa, Michelle Plouffe. These ladies, plus the ones not listed have all been through the National Program, some more than others, and they have played on the SWNT team for several years already. This is a team that has been playing together at this level for a long time and having been through the battles has surely built a cohesion that will mean more to them on the floor than we'll truly be able to gauge.
The depth also something that Canada has this time around. The team is loaded in the frontcourt with nine players topping six foot. And those are also some versatile frontcourt players. Of all the players on the roster, I had watched the pair of NCAA players Natalie Achonwa and Michelle Plouffe the most and I know that they are able to bang in the middle and step out and hit the three. That is huge in the international game. Plus the fact that there are other players like Miranda Ayim, Murphy, Smith and the Tatham sisters that can do that as well we look pretty good right there.
The only weak point may be at the guard spot because there really is only one true point guard in Gabrielle but that shouldn't be a big issue. Backcourt mate Courtnay Pilypaitis has been the primary ball handler in her time in college, where she was standout at Vermont all four years might I add, so the drop off will not be very noticeable. Plus with the versatility of some of the frontcourt players who can play a point-forward if you will, Canada should be fine.
Well peeps, that's my take on the SWNT team heading into the Qualifying Tournament. I didn't delve too heavily into both the French or Mali teams and really Canada should be able to advance the qualifying round of the tournament even if they win only one game in pool play. The SWNT had already seen France play earlier this month in an exhibition game that they dropped 66-41 so they should be familiar with them. And with the stakes significantly higher this time around, all games should be intense and scrappy to the final whistle.
All I can hope for is that no one gets hurt on the team and everyone is intact. This is the biggest stage right here and I'm pretty confident that Senior Women can punch their ticket to London this week.