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Two-times bronze for El Salvador keeps the dream alive

SAN SALVADOR (El Salvador) – The U14 men’s and women’s national teams of El Salvador won the second place in the U14 COCABA Championship held in Managua, Nicaragua, in November. With the participation of five male and five female teams, the Salvadorians were led by Ernesto Lahúd and María Eugenia Méndez, who were accompanied by national teams coordinator Ray Santana in their best effort to take the national teams to the highest possible place – and they did.

One of the main pillars of the Salvadorian Basketball Federation (FESABAL) is to decentralize basketball, which is why, all calls to build the national teams include visits to zones outside of the capital to search for talents, an initiative that has rendered great results and has provided outstanding talents.

The national men’s team included six players from El Salvador’s interior. Cities like Quezaltepeque, Cojutepeque, La Unión, and San Miguel were represented in the group; a great achievement for FESABAL and the technical staff that had the task to find young talents from all zones. Meanwhile, the women’s team had representatives from La Libertad and La Unión, as well as players with double nationality that were also a part of the team's final roster.

“It's been very positive to get the bronze medal. We competed for the silver, but it slipped out of our hands, and that should serve us to keep working and try to win either the gold or the silver and get a Centrobasket qualification. It was the first time in a long time that the national teams were the least focused on the capital. We found a lot of talent outside the capital, which is very important for the future of our national teams,” said Santana to FIBA.basketball.

Regarding the future of Salvadorian basketball, he said: “We’ll try to improve the infrastructure and the competitions with a work plan with the national teams. We’ll try to train and concentrate more. We got to the COCABA Tournament with 35 training sessions, and despite that, we did our very best. We need more work hours. We also have to improve school competitions, how we prepare our coaches, and move forward to be able to aspire to the gold and silver medals.”

The Salvadorian warriors gained good results with their determined game in each encounter at Managua’s Alexis Argüello Sports Complex.

If something characterizes El Salvador in international competitions, that is the intensity of their game and the resiliency they show in the face of adversity, which is key to a good result. In the tournament’s opening, they were defeated by the locals (60-66), then they fell against Panama (47-99), and bounced back against Guatemala (71-41), concluding the tournament with the bronze medal despite their defeat against Costa Rica, 65-88. As for the men’s team, the national team was one of the tallest in the championship. The women were characterized by being a quick and intense team in the paint.

“The technical staff of both teams was aware that the main goal was to get to the podium. They did a good job for three months with the teams. We knew how tough this tournament is. Both the women and the men started the tournament with losses but never stopped fighting in any game, and that's the result of the efforts by our athletes to get the bronze medal, for which we feel proud,” said the men's coach, Ernesto Lahúd, to FIBA.basketball.

Another important moment in the Tournament was the election of Kevin Carrillo for the All-Star Five, who also concluded the tournament with an average of 15.0 rebounds per game. “He’s our center. He was outstanding in the court both in the offense and in the defense. He’s a player that does offensive and defensive rebounds, block a lot of shots in the defense, and scores points. Without a doubt he did a great tournament and has a great future,” the coach pointed out.

Meanwhile, the female national team fell in their debut against Costa Rica (38-56), but then obtained two triumphs in the group phase, overcoming Nicaragua (52-35) and Panama (54-41), and fell against Guatemala (38-51) to achieve the bronze medal. Also, Fátima Tejeda was named part of the tournament's All-Star Five, as she was outstanding in the points and rebounds per game averages.

Tejeda is one of Salvadorian basketball’s greatest promises. She had already been part of a U16 national team and played in the FIBA Americas World Cup Qualifiers with just 13 years of age and currently plays in El Salvador’s national women's league.

“I was nervous, but I started to trust myself, (I wanted to) show that I had a reason to be there, that I had to give my best to my country. I felt emotional, surprised when they called me to be a part of the All-Star Five. But it was also due to my teammates because all of them put their part for it,” said the young Salvadorian basketball prospect.

“The bronze medal is not only the Federation’s and the staff’s achievement but also of the schools and clubs where the children train all through the year. We need to stay together for the good of the growth of basketball in the country. We need to work more hours and give the national team the importance it needs in youth categories since they're the future senior national teams,” added Maru Méndez, the female national team’s coach.

The national teams also counted on the support of government institutions and the parents, who even traveled to Managua to support the athletes at all times.

“The girls learned about identity, respect, and what it means to be in a national team. They felt everyone’s support. For many, it was the first time they wore El Salvador's colors and I know that starting now, they're better athletes and people,” she added.

These national teams represent the foundations for the future senior teams and FESABAL’s plans are to continue to foster constant training and friendlies so that the youth national teams can become the future of this Central American nation’s basketball.