Panama's hopes are high for the Central American U16 Championships in Guatemala
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Panama's hopes are high for the Central American U16 Championships in Guatemala

PANAMA - The best basketball athletes of the region will come together from March 25 to 29 to compete for the title of the COCABA U-16 Central American Men's and Women’s Championships, which will take place at Teodoro Palacios Flores National Gymnasium in Guatemala.

The Panamanian Basketball Federation prepared extensively and will now face the Central American Championships of this category with great expectations. Both teams, the men and the women, want to reach the podium during this edition. Also, the two best teams from each branch will qualify to this year’s U-17 Centrobasket, another one of FEPABA's objectives.

“The men’s national team has a lot of work on their shoulders and they’ll try to repeat what they did in 2016. Our women's team is a young team, but I trust our youth leagues’ process and we’ll do very well in this tournament,” FEPABA president Jair Peralta pointed out.

After getting the silver medal in the 2016 Central American Championships in San José, Costa Rica, and with a sole defeat against Mexico in the Final; and getting the 2017 Centrobasket qualification in 2017, the men’s team will try to get the title this year after a poor participation in the 2018 Central American Championships.

The twelve gladiators that will defend the Panama colors are Isaac Machore, Gonzalo Ortiz, Fernando Morales, Jhoriel Zapata, Justin Díaz, Jhomar Garibaldi, Aldimir Castillo, José Toruño, Fernando Pinillo Jr., Angel Herrera, Guillermo Navarro Jr. and Francesco Controni.

The technical team comprises the coach, Luis Julio; assistant coach, Víctor Julio; physical therapist José Barrios; and Jesús Gordon, the equipment manager. Both teams will count on sports psychologist Anthony Quirós’ permanent presence.

“It's important to try to get the championship. We've prepared and we're very motivated to achieve this. For many of these guys, this is their first appearance with the Panamanian national team. We want to take Panama to the highest pedestal,” assured Luis Julio, the men’s coach.

The Panama delegation will face their first commitment on Monday, 25, against El Salvador; then, Costa Rica. On Wednesday, March 27 they will face Mexico; on Thursday 28 the locals, Guatemala; and they close the tournament facing Honduras on Friday.

“We hope to achieve the qualification for this year’s Centrobasket. We're going to give it our all,” stated Jhomar Garibaldi, small forward for the men’s team.

“We want to honor our country as other great players have done before in Panamanian basketball,” said the men's team point guard, Guillermo Navarro Jr.

As for the women’s technical team, it comprises coach Alfonso Stoute, assistant coach Ernesto Marcel, physical therapist Margarita González, and equipment manager Joel González.

On their debut game in the Women’s Championship, Panama will face hosts Guatemala, and then will follow-up with Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica.

“The girls’ expectations are excellent. We're doing very well, and we hope to get in top shape to the youth tournament. Both the girls and the technical team want to move on to the second round,” said the coach that will lead the 12 players: Mariangel Concha, Wyneth Acevedo, Daniela Reyes, Ana De León, Diobelis Batista, Génesis Juárez, Valeria Batista, María García, Nashua Staff, Vivian Galagarza, Valentina Marengo and Hermione Hicks.

2010 set a before and after in the women’s team. They were absent from tournaments until the 2016 Central American Tournament in San José, Costa Rica, which was the team's last participation until the moment. There, led by José Gómez and assisted by Alfonso Stoute (the current coach), they failed to get any victories, and ended with a 0-4 record.

Hermione Hicks, the daughter of the senior men’s national team, Michael Hicks, is this team’s small forward. She enjoys the trainings and says that “we really want to achieve something important, and we expect to win in this tournament, with God's help.”

FEPABA began their 2019 season with the Youth National League in the Metropolitan Region, dedicated to former national player Reginaldo Grenald, and are now organizing the Panamanian Province Basketball League, presided by Alberto Duque.

A total of 21 teams that represent the San Miguelito, Panamá Oeste and the Capital City, will participate in the U17 men’s, U17 women’s, and U14 men’s categories.

“The main goal is to give our young athletes a competitive development stage during the year with the best possible technical level (in refereeing and statistics); and the closest thing to an international game (experience) so that they're more experienced when they represent our country in international events,” the Federation stated in an official press release.

This competition helps the young selected athletes to acquire the training and competition experience at the top demand levels, so that they can perform effectively in their corresponding national teams.

The Federation is working on youth development in their goal of contributing talents to the senior national team and thus reaching their objectives in a near future, led by their motto “Vamos pa’ encima (Let's go get it)”.