The 2006-2007 regular season in France tuned into the most passionate one in recent times.
It was neither plain sailing for Bourges nor USVO and Villeneuve almost upset the hierarchy as the latter club challenged for the regular season title.
The change witnessed in the domestic league last season has finally affected French club sides in Europe for 2007-2008.
What makes the French league interesting is that all the clubs now play on a more even playing field.
The budgets for the bigger clubs have not increased much in proportion compared to the ones for the smaller clubs in the league over the last few years.
Hence all clubs are now able to afford to have a more complete professional roster.
Therefore it is not surprising for the LFB sides participating in Europe to suffer in these competitions as other European countries have been able to woe top players from the French league.
At the same time due to a different format for the LFB only four teams will qualify for the end of season’s championship play-off, which has now put a serious premium on all the domestic games.
Furthermore the LFB has also modified the relegation system where the bottom two clubs at the end of the regular season will drop down to NF1.
Each of the four clubs in EuroLeague have had their problems in the first phase this season and are lying at the bottom of their groups:
Bourges, for the first time, have a professional roster of 11 players this season.
They have a good mix of experience with Cathy Melain and Sonja Kireta ,the veterans of the team, and with Ana Maria Cata-Chitiga, Endeme Miyem, Carine Paul, Sonja Petrovic as youth players.
The rest of the squad is made up of senior internationals and Céline Dumerc as captain.
Despite Bourges dominating the LFB even with concentration lapses making them give up second-chance opportunities they are struggling in the EuroLeague due to these deficiencies.
On the other hand USVO is basically a new team with only Emily Gomis and Krissy Bade left from last season.
Their victories in the LFB have not been convincing but due to their mental and physical strength the team has survived so far.
But now it is time for the team to find the right balance and play to their individual strengths especially if they want to avoid another blow-out like the one against Spartak Moscow.
Francesca Zara, Emily Gomis, Krissy Bade and Nicole Olhde are the most consistent players on the roster but when you add the shooting capability of Lauren Koehn, Sabrina Reggaissia and Amélie Pochet the squad roster should be troubling the best.
Villeneuve D’Ascq are still regretting their pre-season picking up numerous injuries which resulted in cancelling games.
Géraldine Robert was one of the major casualties during the pre-season and the departure of Iveta Marcauskaite (maternity leave) has required the club to make a number of changes to their game.
Their league form has been patchy as they have struggled in putting away their opponents domestically but have managed to win all but two of their games.
The EuroLeague has proved to be more difficult and Villeneuve have already been punished for not killing off games when they had the chance. Kathy Wambe holds this team together and without her the players tend to stray.
The side is learning fast but are running out of games to make an impact in Europe this time around.
Mondeville have the experience to do well in Europe but do not have the roster.
They have lost their two centers (pivots) with injuries and ended up playing with only six players in the last EuroLeague match.
The club has one of the best youth academies in France but with a professional roster containing three players under the age of 21 they cannot expect to keep on supplementing their bench with them and hope to win many matches in EuroLeague.
They are 4-3 domestically with defeats to teams that are currently in the top 5 places. Caroline Aubert, Paoline Salagnac and Lenae Williams are all playing well but the roster lacks the depth to make roads in Europe.
Bourges and USVO have the capability in performing well in EuroLeague if they make the necessary adjustments while Villeneuve’s lack of experience will be a handicap for these sorts of competition whereas Mondeville’s younger players can only be learning from this European experience.
photo Dan Vernon
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photo Dan Vernon