Novocastrian Opals duo Katie-Rae Ebzery and Leilani Mitchell have been named in the 12-player Australian squad set to contest next month’s FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament in France, as they battle for a place at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Ebzery and Newcastle-convert Mitchell are old hats at the Olympics campaign, with both involved in Australia’s disappointing top-eight finish in Brazil where the Opals tumbled to a 71–73 loss at the hands of Serbia at the Carioca Arena.
That’s not to say the Australian squad has had a tough time proving themselves on the international stage recently. The number-two team claimed silver at the 2018 World Cup, before placing third at the FIBA Asia Cup behind China and Japan.
Before they make the tournament-proper, however, Ebzery, Mitchell, and the Opals have a qualifying campaign to navigate in Bourges, France.
Australia has drawn the number one seed for the tournament, and have been dropped into a group alongside France (world no.5), Brazil (no.15), and Puerto Rica (no.23). The Opals need a top-three finish to punch a ticket to Japan.
Earning their spot among the world’s elite in Tokyo is a must for the Opals, especially considering their bomb-out against Serbia in 2016 was the first time since 1996 that the team had failed to pick up a medal at the global event.
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This time, they’ll be looking to right the wrongs of Rio, especially with Liz Cambage leading the way for the second-best team in the world rankings.
“With the final pre-Olympic qualifications in February, we have chosen a well-balanced, versatile and tough group that is, most importantly, filled with players who are in good form,” Opals head coach Sandy Brondello said.
“This will be vital with the limited preparation that we will have leading into these important games. We are confident of achieving our goal of qualifying for Tokyo, and look forward to continued improvement with the more time we have together.”
Ebzery and Mitchell begin their ascent towards the Olympics, and a potential chance to claim bronze, silver, or gold this year, with a battle against group rivals France on February 7. They then play Puerto Rico on February 9 and Brazil on February 10.
Opals squad: Rebecca Allen, Elizabeth Cambage, Katie-Rae Ebzery, Cayla George, Ezi Magbegor, Leilani Mitchell, Lauren Nicholson, Jenna O’Hea, Nicole Seekamp, Alanna Smith, Stephanie Talbot, Marianna Tolo.