Just 10 years ago, in April 2011, a group of 50 Salamanca fans embarked on an expedition of almost 6,000 kilometers to the remote city of Yekaterinburg, a stop on the Trans-Siberian on the eastern face of the Urals. Their mission of fidelity was to support their basketball team, the then Hawk Avenue, a group of intrepid women, a mixture of seniority and youth, who arrived in Russia without stripes and left there as European champions. It was the third women’s Euroleague for Spain, 18 years after the Dorna Godella pioneers achieved two consecutive crowns in 1992 and 1993. Upon their return to Salamanca, 10,000 people filled the city square to celebrate the feat. That poster, with Silvia Domínguez (already as captain), Alba Torrens (mvp of the final), Érika de Souza, Sancho Lyttle, Anke de Mondt, Belinda Snell, Ana Montañana, Isa Sánchez, Marta Xargay, Laura Gil, Amaya Gastaminza and coach Lucas Mondelo, can find relief this Sunday in Istanbul. In their resilient and proud return to the European elite, Perfumerías will play the title this Sunday against the almighty Yekaterinburg (18.00, Tdp). A journey of a decade that symbolizes the journey of Spanish women’s basketball: with Salamanca as Gallic village of resistance and selection as a conquering impulse, paradoxically hardened by the emigration of talents that, for years, undercapitalized a now steadily growing league.
The repatriation of the internationals marked the progressive rearmament of the national competition, with the milestones of the Avenida as milestones of the strength recovered in Europe. From Yekaterinburg 2011 to Istanbul 2021. “Going back to a Final Four and remembering everything that happened 10 years ago is extraordinary. We have already shown that from Salamanca you can also conquer Europe ”, explains Jorge Recio, president of Perfumerías for 20 years, great architect of a family project in which his three brothers accompany him and which he supports with his company. “They were spectacular years,” recalls Marta Xargay, a former Perfumerías player between 2009 and 2015. “Hopefully, Spanish clubs will be common again in the European finals. Hopefully the great teams and the investment from 10 or 15 years ago will return. The work of clubs such as Avenida and the Federation and the successes of the national team have done a lot to move this forward “, points out the international temporarily retired from the courts. “We do not have the economic capacity of others, but we have had more enthusiasm and perseverance than anyone. To rebuild ourselves in times of serious crisis, to know how to sign and invest money, to bet on young talent… We have created a city project. Sustainability means never going crazy ”, continues President Recio, between ambition and realism.
With a budget of around one million euros, Avenida, which for years competed alone in Europe due to the lack of resources from other Spanish teams, is now the third budget in the Endesa Women’s League, slightly behind Valencia (champion of the Eurocup) and Girona (Cup champion). But the difference is abysmal when compared to its rival in the Euroleague final, Yekaterinburg, a giant with an average budget of 12 million euros in recent years thanks to the support of UMMC, Russia’s largest copper producer. “A player and a half of hers is equivalent to our entire squad. They have a private plane, roster more extensive and a dozen technicians. Around Roberto Íñiguez we have three former players who started at the club since they were little [Raquel Romo, entrenadora ayudante; Esther García, fisioterapeuta; y Mavi Sánchez preparadora]. We do not have airplanes, but we compete like nobody else and we have been fighting for many years and playing finals ”, completes Recio, who defines Salamanca as“ an island ”and laments the lack of support from public institutions.
With its sustainability formula, the Avenida has played 44 of the 59 possible finals in national competition in the last 20 years and has won 26 titles. “The 2011 Euroleague was a catharsis for the future of the national team. The Spanish players saw that it was possible to win internationally. That’s where the seed of Spain was born with the seven consecutive medals “, details the coach Lucas Mondelo, coach of Avenida between 2010 and 2012.” Then came difficult times, although the progressive departure of players strengthened the team. They gained experience, competitiveness, respect and recognition. The crisis greatly affected sports and, above all, women and it was difficult to overcome. But the return of the internationals, the arrival again of top-class foreign players and the reinforcement of the economic commitment have allowed us to recover the level and visibility. 75% of what was lost has been rebuilt ”, adds Mondelo.
After the conquest of Avenida in 2011, the success was more and, the following year, Spain captured the first European final in its history with the duel between Rivas Ecópolis and Ros Casares. However, after that milestone and the immediate disappearance of the luxurious Valencian project, the league went into a deep depression. In the 2012-13 season the tournament was reduced to 11 teams instead of the usual 14 then, now there are 16. “The great merit of the recovery of the League belongs to Salamanca. He never got off the car, he kept the level and motivated the appearance of new projects to compete. Perfumerías has always been there, covering women’s basketball and betting on national talent ”, says Amaya Valdemoro, emblem of Spanish basketball and Avenida player in two stages at the beginning of her career. The arrival of Endesa in 2019 as ‘title sponsor’ of the women’s league confirmed the reconstruction of the tournament. “The future now passes through the landing of more ACB teams. That will give more quality, structure and solidity to the league. It will complete the organizational turn that is needed. There are big bets underway such as those of Unicaja and Barcelona to be added to those of Valencia, Estudiantes and Zaragoza. The structure and economic level of these teams will absorb the most modest ”, develops Recio.
According to the data in the memory of the Higher Sports Council, updated as of 2019, basketball is, by far, the sport with the most licenses for women in Spain (132,927 out of a total of 385,635). They are followed by climbing (84,118), golf (76,243) and soccer (71,276 out of a total of 1,095,604); and, far behind, are other team disciplines such as volleyball (64,426) and handball (36,174). Soccer has doubled its women’s licenses in the last decade, but basketball leads all the data tables of this century, always above 100,000. “In Salamanca, the Avenida is a religion,” explains Xargay. “It is a city of basketball and the fans live it as their own, they feel part of the club,” he adds while recalling “spectacular matches with the Würzburg pavilion packed to the roof.” She arrived at the age of 18 from Girona, but the Perfumerías quarry has about 300 girls who start playing at the age of six in little basket with the first team as a mirror. “Salamanca has always bet on young people, for offering that platform for future players to take flight and they have made that their identity. They have been constant in the idea, in the training of talents while maintaining competitiveness ”, Xargay continues before synthesizing the formula. “The club and the fans take care of you and give you everything. If you see that those who cheer leave their soul, you have to leave it the same ”, he concludes. Silvia Domínguez, Tiffany Hayes, Katie Lou Samuelson, Maite Cazorla, Leo Rodríguez, Andrea Vilaró, Emese Hof, Nikolina Milic, Karlie Samuelson, Bella Alaire, Mariça Gajic, Umi Diallo and Roberto Íñiguez aspire to reissue the Ekaterinburg poster in Istanbul. Ten years later, the Avenida is back to the elite, emblem and symptom of the rearmament of the Spanish league, an infinite quarry of the national team.