By RENALDO DORSETT
Tribune Sports Reporter
THE Bahamas Basketball Federation Junior Women's National Basketball team will continue their path toward qualification to more prestigious tournaments in the region, beginning with this year's Centrobasket.
The team tips off play today in the FIBA Americas Centrobasket Under-17 Women's Championship, to be hosted August 15-19 in Aguada, Puerto Rico.
Participating teams include the Bahamas, British Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Suriname.
"We are looking forward to having excellent results in this tournament. We believe we put together a strong team and we also have a strong coaching staff. BTC and the Omni Financial group allowed us to have some of the ammenities we may not have been afforded and asissted with travel, sneakers, bags and the like so we have to thank them for the support they have rendered to the BBF," said BBF Treasurer and Chief de Mission - Simone Beneby.
The Bahamas was placed in Group B along with Suriname, Costa Rica, and the hosts Puerto Rico.
They will face Costa Rica today at 1pm local time in the tournament opener.
"We anticipate that that will be one of the more challenging teams in our bracket, but we anticipate that we will fare well, but the most challenigng team will be the host team Puerto RIco who we face on Thursday," Beneby said, "With our team, this is one of our better talent pools we have had. The cutting process was that difficult and began with about 50 girls. The chemistry between the girls is good and the girls work out their challenges so this is a good strong unified group headed into Puerto Rico."
Group A includes El Salvador, the British Virgin Islands, Guatemala and Mexico.
The top-three teams from the tournament will qualify to FIBA Under-18 Women's Americas Championship 2018.
Varel Clarke-Davis serves as the head coach with Terrence McSweeney and Devynn Johnson as assistant coaches.
"We have a very talented group of ladies with high expectations. Most of them are new but we have some girls who were here from the last time we won the gold medal," Johnson said, "We are looking forward to a great time and competing again for gold. These girls have worked hard, and they put in the work. Now its time to represent the flag and represent it well. It wont be easy but we have prepared and these girls will do their best."
The competition system of the tournament consists of two phases. In the Group Phase, the eight (8) participating teams will be divided into two groups of four teams. Teams will play in a round-robin format for three days. The best two teams from each group will advance to the next phase, where the first place of Group A will play against the second place in Group B and vice versa. The winners of the Semi-Finals will advance to the Gold Medal Match, while the losers will play for the bronze of the continental event.
The Bahamas qualified for the Centrobasket 2017 tournament after they claimed the 2016 Caribbean Basketball Confederation's Under-16 title.
The Bahamas won the title with a 55-50 win over Suriname in the title game at the Cliff Anderson Sports Hall in Georgetown, Guyana. Tanea Bowleg capped an MVP performance for the Bahamas with 19 points and also grabbed 12 rebounds.
Bowleg led the Bahamas with 15.7 points per game over the course of the tournament while Valicia Demeritte scored 15 per game and Briontae Riley scored 9.7 per game. The Bahamas opened with a 59-54 win over Surinam, followed by an 89-36 win over Trinidad and Tobago and qualified for the final with a 55-26 win over Antigua and Barbuda.
Many of the players from that team have returned for this year's squad, including Bowleg and Riley.
"I expcect it to be a tough tournament because our coaches tell us the difference in the level from CBC and moving up. All we can do is play hard to come up with wins and move on," Bowleg said, "Practices have been intense but to win you have to win to put in that hard work. Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard."
Riley and fellow national team member Diondrea Nixon participated in Basketball Without Borders this summer and competed against some of the same athletes that will be present at the Centrobasket.
"I expect us to do well, I think that we are one of the better teams and we are capable of bringing home a medal," she said, "I told my team that the girls at BWB were really good so we cannot underestimate any teams, even the teams we beat at CBC because this tournament is different."
The Bahamas will face Suriname on Wednesday 2pm and Puerto Rico on Thurday 6pm to complete the group stage.
With the focus of the region now shifting to Puerto Rico after the boys event in the Dominican Republic last month, the mayor of Aguada said his city is ready to host the top national team programmes, their fans and supporters.
"I feel privileged and honoured that Aguada is selected as the venue for these games nationwide," said the Mayor of Aguada, Manuel "Gabina" Santiago. "We have seen how our people have been an alternative to the development of the Puerto Rican sport. We have excellent facilities, with human resources specialised in sports and more than anything else the will and commitment to the sports development of our people. And an example of this is our team of Santeros, who enjoy having one of the best fan bases of all Puerto Rico. As we have supported that team we will also support this event, and are looking forward to the month of July to welcome all the participants,"