17 January, 2019
31 March
Long Read
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Las Animas: Their frustration doesn’t change their goals

BUENOS AIRES (DIRECTV Liga de las Américas 2019) – Las Ánimas de Valdivia went from experiencing the sudden and direct satisfaction of achieving a historic feat, to the frustration of an unexpected loss. From the pride of getting to an international level with their Liga de las Américas semi-finals qualification, to the heartbreak of being eliminated in the first playoffs encounter against Ancud, 4-3. Only 30 days went by during these mixed feelings.

The team’s coach, Argentine Lucas Zurita, admits that it was “an unexpected hit, because we won the regular phase of the national league and we were everyone’s candidates to be in the final. But we faced many problems, like Morales’ injury, a very demanding calendar, one of our foreign players was changed... The day after our elimination we had to travel to Buenos Aires. That looked like a funeral, some players were crying in the airport. And in this emotional state we faced the Liga de las Américas semi-finals.”

The Valdivian team concluded the regular phase with an outstanding 21-win and 7-loss record, during which they achieved a 15-victory streak.

For Las Ánimas’ sports director Carlos Moraga, “after winning five titles in two seasons and our good performance in Liga de las Américas, we got used to winning and that elimination was a stab at the club’s heart. We changed a foreign player (Freeman, a center, for Joseph) thinking that we would strengthen the team, and it was the complete opposite.”

The directives share a similar opinion. They are saddened by the early elimination, but they try to rescue what was positive from the season: “It was a hard hit, because we had expected to be in the national league finals. But we consolidated Las Ánimas as an elite team in Chile, and in Liga de las Américas we achieved something that has no comparison in the history of our basketball — getting to the LDA semi-finals with wins against Argentine and Brazilian teams. We are satisfied with the attitudes of the players, they gave it their all. This is a sport and we must be ready for when the results are not as expected,” recapped Rudy Stange.

This premature elimination brought about some negative consequences and they are accepted by the Valdivia Club. Coach Zurita regrets that “one of the objectives was to consolidate ourselves in the international stage and with this defeat that gets a bit more complicated. Both for the club and for the players, playing an international tournament signifies a great exposition, which benefits all.”

A clear example of this is that all good foreign reinforcements presented by Las Ánimas received immediate offers: shooting guard Brandon Robinson, one of the leading LDA scorers, will continue his career in China; and small forwards Arnold Louis and J.J. Moore will incorporate to Argentine teams.

Meanwhile, Las Ánimas keep their door open to return to international competitions, since after they won the Chile Cup, they agreed to play a game against current national league runners-up. If they win this match, this will allow them to participate in the 2019 Liga Sudamericana.

Stange also assures that there will be financial effects to being eliminated from the Chilean league because “if we would have gone on to the next round, we would have had to play against Deportivo Valdivia, the traditional rival from their city. This would have generated good revenues, which are very necessary for a small club like ours. However, because we have a solid financial structure, a calculated budget, and thanks to the support of our municipal, regional and national government, we're able to face this with no problems. That’s a positive aspect of our organization.”

The international repercussion of Las Ánimas’ performance in Liga de las Américas attracted advertising partners, such as multi-national fast-food company McDonald’s, which backs the administration of the team's directives and the tournament's reach.

There are usually consequences to an unexpected defeat. However, it seems as though the team’s different sectors are in total agreement about the next steps.

According to Zurita, “it would be ideal to keep the core, to avoid dismantling a team that’s still powerful despite this loss. I trust the management, they're very organized and they built a good organization, and they're responsible. They did a good job when getting sponsors and they created a good relationship with the team’s fans, which solidifies the project.”

For Moraga, “a project like ours that had a 90% results efficiency in two years, doesn’t need to be changed, it needs to be supported. This squad, with a few retouches, will be a contender for the title in the next season of the national league.”

Most of the squad ended their contracts with Las Ánimas when their participation in Liga de las Américas concluded. However, nothing points toward significant changes, even more so when the start of Liga SAESA — a tournament that has no foreign players — for southern Chilean teams, is about to begin.

Manager Stange’s words are significant, and he is very much aware of the fact: “The project will continue, that’s why we have players with five-year contracts in the club. We always want to be in the spotlight and we have achieved to do so. We must keep our minds set from now on and plan well toward the future. We wish to continue to be a relevant team in Chile and play in international tournaments. We did that this year, we won all of our rivals’ respect and we will move forward with that goal. But our style is also about only spending what we can, we're down to earth.”

Alejandro Pérez