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Vanderwal aware ticket to Tokyo could prove to be a game-changer for Great Britain
LONDON (Great Britain) - Still riding high on the historical achievements at the FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2019 when they reached the Semi-Finals and their best ever finish, could underdogs Great Britain ink more new ground?
They head to the FIBA Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament in Foshan with eyes on a spot at Tokyo 2020, having never qualified for the Olympics previously. Their only previous appearance came when they hosted at London 2012 and nobody had anticipated them getting anywhere near another shot at flying the Union Jack flag at the 'Greatest Show On Earth'.
"TO BE SUCCESSFUL WITHOUT MUCH FUNDING IS A TESTAMENT TO THE COACHES, MANAGERS AND PLAYERS" - Vanderwal
It’s going to be tough having to travel to Asia to face Spain, China and Korea in Foshan, but tough is what makes Great Britain tick – both on and off the court. Having to battle for the basic right to compete with scarce resources, means if they do somehow make the fairytale journey all the way to the Japanese capital, it could be a game changer.
“Funding has always been an issue with GB after the London Olympics," mused guard Rachael Vanderwal.
"I think that our squad has done a great job in that we haven't allowed it to affect us on the court. There have been so many changes in the organization and behind the scenes that are out of our control. And to be successful without much funding is a testament to the coaches, managers, and players of the GB women's team over the last few years.
"To finally get some funding from UK Sport heading into China and hopefully Tokyo, is a plus, and we do deserve it. Hopefully with continued success, our Federation can secure future sponsorship, so that GB basketball can continue competing at the highest level.
She continued: "2019 was one of the most successful ever for the women's program. Everyone knows how hard it is to first of all qualify for the FIBA Women's EuroBasket and our group was very tough. Being able to beat both Greece and Israel, we put ourselves in a great position to continue to do well heading to Final Round.
"WE WANT TO GO TO TOKYO, AND MAKE 2020 THE BEST YEAR YET FOR THIS TEAM." - Vanderwal
"We definitely grew as a team in the Qualifiers, and we showed that we could win down the stretch in tight games. We were confident heading to Latvia, and I think that showed in the way we played all tournament long.
"Placing fourth in Europe is just an amazing accomplishment for this squad, and we deserved it. We played some outstanding team basketball, and just fought every single game. And now clinching that ticket to the Olympic qualifiers is so exciting, but we aren't satisfied with that. We want to go to Tokyo, and make 2020 the best year yet for this team."
Interestingly, Great Britain only have that experience at London 2012 in terms of playing teams outside of Europe at a major tournament. They know Spain very well, but China and Korea will make for some interesting match-ups – although Vanderwal is keen to focus more on what herself and her teammates need to do.
She stated: "I have so many emotions when I think about the OQT. I actually try not to think about it, because I get stressed and nervous! It's such a big tournament as every team wants to make the Olympics. It's a very exciting time for our team. I just want to get to China already and play so we know.
"Every game is obviously going to be tough for us, but we will play with confidence and fight like we always do. Travelling to China is not the ideal situation for us, but we have to embrace it and just go out there and play basketball. Of course the travelling will take its' toll, but I'm sure the adrenaline of what is at stake will help us.
"For our team to be successful in China, we need to continue to play like we did at the Final Round. We played great team defense, and that really fuels our offense. I'm sure our game plans will differ with China, Korea and Spain, but we really need to prepare and focus on our job and what we do well. We have a very balanced team with weapons at every position.
"THE PASSION, FIGHT, TEAMWORK AND THE HAPPINESS WHEN WE STEP ON THAT COURT WITH GB IS SOMETHING SPECIAL THAT NOT EVERY TEAM HAS."
"And this past summer, different people stepped up at different times, and we really need everyone together on the same page fighting every possession to get that ultimate ticket. Staying positive, playing with confidence, playing smart, and being relentless on defense will get lead us to success.
"The core of us have been together for a long, long time. a whole decade. And we know what it takes to succeed at this level, and we know what we are capable of. We have great team chemistry, and we just enjoy playing for each other out there. All of us love putting on that jersey and competing.
"We truly love each other, and I think that shows when we play. The passion, fight, teamwork, and genuine happiness when we step on that court with GB is something special that not every team has. That's why we keep playing."
Meanwhile perhaps having already tasted the Olympic experience eight years ago means Vanderwal is even more driven to do so again. Stepping out in the British capital is something she will never forget.
"I think every athletes' dream is to play at the Olympics. It's the biggest sporting event in the world, where you get to compete on the biggest stage, against the best players. And to get the opportunity to do it twice, would be pretty epic," she reiterated.
"When I think back to London 2012, it was just all so surreal. The whole experience was amazing. Walking out in the opening ceremonies with Team GB to 80,000 people on their feet was a highlight for me, and then singing 'God Save the Queen' with 8,000 other people in the stands before our first game was crazy emotional.
"And, I want my other teammates to get to experience those feelings and have those memories. There is nothing like it in the world, it's so, so special.
"The motivation for the OQT is huge," she concluded.