Canadas womens basketball team hopes to keep world streak alive

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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CIUABA, Brazil - Canada's women's basketball team ended a drought that had lasted more than a decade when it qualified for the 2006 world championships.
The Canadians begin their quest for a berth in next year's FIBA world championships Wednesday, and the players are hoping their previous success was only the beginning.
"We'd like to start a little roll going," coach Allison McNeill said in a recent phone interview. "They're pretty jacked up, it's a tough team - mentally tough - and they love to compete, so I feel pretty good about it."
Canada, ranked 12th in the world, opens the eight-team FIBA Americas championships against the 35th-ranked Dominican Republic while world No. 4 Brazil faces 45th-ranked Puerto Rico in Group A action Wednesday. Group B has Chile, Cuba, Venezuela and Argentina.
The top three teams earn spots in the 2010 FIBA world championships in the Czech Republic.
The players found some inspiration in the Canadian men's team, which recently nabbed a spot in next year's world championships that ended their own drought of international action.
"We were at training camp when they beat the Dominican (Republic to clinch a spot), and were watching it on the Internet," McNeill said. "We were all pretty excited.
"On top of that, seeing our junior women's team place fourth at the world championships (this past summer), it makes you feel a part of something special. It's nice to see that all the work is starting to pay off, it was good for our players to see that."
The Canadian women didn't qualify for the 2008 Beijing Olympics after finding themselves on the unfortunate end of a bad draw at the FIBA Americas qualifying tournament, prompting harsh words at the time from McNeill. Her argument was that there was no crossover play as there was in the men's qualifier, so the Canadians never got to face teams from the other side of the draw.
"I'm happy that this year there's a crossover, that's the good news," McNeill said. "It's still not a full crossover (only the top two teams from each group move on). But we're pretty happy with the draw, it is what it is."
McNeill's squad is a mix of veterans and up-and-coming players, from 16-year-old Natalie Achonwa of Guelph, Ont., to 12-year-veteran point guard Teresa Gabriele of Mission, B.C.
The 29-year-old Gabriele, who played for Canada at the 2006 world championships, said she loves the makeup of her current team.
"We have a great mix. . .," Gabriele said. "The younger women on the team bring energy and the older ones have experience and we just have to gel really well on and off the floor.
"Of any team I have been on the past 12 years, I think this team has a chance to qualify. We've connected on all levels and we just have an amazing shot."
The Canadians face Puerto Rico on Thursday, then Brazil on Friday to wrap up the preliminary round. The top two teams in each group advance to Saturday's semifinals, with the winners earning automatic world berths and the losers playing for the third and final spot.

Organizations: FIBA, Dominican Republic

Geographic location: Canada, Brazil, Puerto Rico Chile Cuba Venezuela Argentina Czech Republic Guelph

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