Digna Strautmane revelling in home comforts on the big stage
RIGA (Latvia) - Whatever happens this week, it will be a tournament to remember for Digna Strautmane - not only because she is playing in front of her home fans, but also alongside her sister, too.
The Strautmane duo took to the court together on the opening day yesterday, a year after Paula - the older of the two at 22 - missed out on playing at the 2018 FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup.
It was the younger sibling who had to go it alone in Tenerife last year as she marked a debut tournament with the senior team.
"WE OBVIOUSLY WANT TO WIN EVERY GAME, BUT SOMETIMES YOU DON'T GET WHAT YOU WANT. THE MOTIVATION NEVER CHANGES."
"It was great to be there," Digna recalls. "It didn't go as well as we hoped, but the experience was amazing. There were so many Latvians and it was just so emotional.
"Especially the first game, I remember, when the national anthems came on, tears were in our eyes - we couldn't help it. It was just emotional because we were so happy."
This time, they are united to strengthen the sisterhood theme at FIBA Women's EuroBasket 2019 with family ties across the tournament including the Elderbrinks from Sweden, Belgium's Mestdaghs, the Elhotovas of Czech Republic as well as the Italian Dottos.
There is no separating the two off the court, either, as they are sharing a room at the team's hotel and could not help but reflect on the moments that they were about to experience. The emotions are even more prominent.
"We were talking in our room [before the first game] and just thinking that it's crazy," says Digna, 20. "We are sisters and are playing on the national team together. It is rare to get that opportunity and it feels special.
"Our family is so proud and everybody is so supportive."
Rewind 10 years and it was a very different experience, sat in the crowd watching her idols and being inspired to have the ambitions to swap the stands for the court, one day.
"I remember watching it when I was very young. Coming with my family, getting all the autographs of the team - I still have the big poster with all of the signatures. It was so fun being able to support the team."
Her favorite? 'Gunta Basko' comes the reply without hesitation. And, the chance to seek her guidance has been no doubt invaluable.
Strautmane went on to showcase her talent at multiple youth events at U18 and U20 level as well as featuring in the FIBA U19 Women's Basketball World Cup 2017.
This is a first appearance at a FIBA Women's EuroBasket tournament, and one that Strautmane is relishing being part of as those dreams are now being played out.
"It's very exciting. My first European championship with the women's team. Playing last year at the [FIBA Women’s Basketball] World Cup was great, but this is different, especially playing at home.
"I am glad I got the opportunity and the coaches took me on the team, just really happy to be here.
"We obviously want to win every game, but sometimes you don't get what you want. The motivation never changes.
"We will keep fighting. I want to support my team as much as I can; being the loudest on the bench and then just doing whatever coach says and whatever I can do to help my team win on the court."
Experienced guard Elina Dikaioulaku declared 'You win or you learn' after Latvia's opening day 74-60 loss against Great Britain. And, for Strautmane it is a combination of both with the desire to win and be successful mixed in with her continued development.
That rise has been aided following two years at Syracuse in the NCAA - a path also taken by Paula at Quinnipac, while Luize Septe is the youngest on the roster off the back of her freshman year at the University of South Florida.
"The big challenge of course is being away from home, but you get used to it. I wasn't homesick as much last year and probably my third year will be even better.
"You have to adjust. American basketball is different, not as physical. Here you are playing against stronger and older women which you have to be ready for.
"I'm really enjoying it and hopefully can have an even better year."
For now, it's about helping the national team. With Kristine Vitola going down to injury in the opener, further responsibility is likely to be put on the 20-year-old's shoulders. With Ukraine next, a response is needed for the hosts.