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Achonwa among 19 named to Canada's preliminary FIBA women's world cup qualifier list

Olympians Natalie Achonwa, Laeticia Amihere and Bridget Carleton were among 19 players named Wednesday to the Canadian women's basketball squad that will play in the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 qualifying tournament.

Olympians Natalie Achonwa, Laeticia Amihere and Bridget Carleton were among 19 players named Wednesday to the Canadian women's basketball squad that will play in the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 qualifying tournament.

The FIBA event goes Feb. 10-13 in Osaka, Japan.

Achonwa, Amihere and Carleton all played for Canada at last year's Tokyo Summer Games.

But some notable names aren't on the list.

Kia Nurse and Nayo Raincock-Ekunwe, along with college standout Shaina Pellington, are all injured. And University of Connecticut star Aaliyah Edwards can't play due to NCAA commitments.

Still, the team is more veteran-laden than the one that competed in Tokyo. Among the returnees are twins Katherine and Michelle Plouffe, both of Edmonton, and Montreal’s Nirra Fields, who in 2019 announced their retirement from international competition.

Canada is currently ranked fourth in the world. It will face host Japan (ranked eighth), Belarus (11th) and Bosnia and Herzegovina (27th). The top three teams will advance to the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 in Australia, starting Sept. 22.

The Canadian team will convene in Osaka on Sunday and have to reduce its roster to 12 players, as per FIBA rules, by Wednesday.

"Over the course of the last month, our players and staff have continued to prepare tirelessly to proudly represent Canada next week at the FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup 2022 Qualifying Tournament,” Canadian head coach Victor Lapena said in a statement. "While this competition will be an important first test for our team, it will also serve a great opportunity for us to measure ourselves as we continue to grow and evolve in pursuit of the long-term goals we’ve established for this program.”

This will be the first tournament for Lapena and assistant coach Noelle Quinn since joining the program in early January.

Lapena, 46, is a Spanish coach with plenty of international and club experience. He’s currently the head coach of Turkey's Fenerbahce’s women’s basketball team that won the '21 Turkish Super League title.

Quinn, 37, is a former WNBA player and the current head coach of the WNBA’s Seattle Storm. She’s won league titles with Seattle as both a player (2018) and assistant coach (2020). Quinn is joined by assistant coach holdovers from Lisa Thomaidis’ Tokyo Olympics staff Steve Baur and Carly Clarke.

Michael Barlett, Canada Basketball's president/CEO, is tempering expectations for the team.

“I think you’ll get a foundational sense, I don’t think it’ll be anywhere close to the final version of it,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday. "I think what you would see from us in a World Cup performance would really reflect Victor’s style of play, but the truth is he likes athletes and we have a ton of athletic women in our program that are excelling in clubs and the NCAA.

“So, I think you’re going to see a style of play that matches what Victor likes with athletic players.”

Qualifying for the World Cup and performing well there is an important milestone towards Olympic qualification. The winner of the World Cup gains a berth into the '24 Paris Olympic event.

Next week's qualifying tournament is one of four being held globally, with the others going in Belgrade and Washington, D.C.

The Canadian team will certainly face some challenges in Japan. Currently there's a travel ban in the country and only those with pre-approval from the Japanese government may enter. 

With the Omicron variant of COVID-19 still running rampant around the world, and in Japan in particular, Canada Basketball has had to be creative with how it was going to divide its travelling party.

“Typically, your travel delegation parties for these FIBA competitions is usually about 25 and you typically travel with about 12 or 13 athletes and the rest support staff,” said Bartlett. “In the new realities, though, it’s in our best interest to travel with more athletes, just in case.

"So, not that we’re going without support services … (but) we made the choice somebody else on the staff is going to have to snap photos and send back updates and coordinate media because we need that (media co-ordinator) spot for a player.”

Canada’s preliminary list

Natalie Achonwa – Guelph, Ont.

Kayla Alexander – Milton, Ont.

Laeticia Amihere – Mississauga, Ont.

Cassandra Brown – Vernon, B.C.

Bridget Carleton – Chatham, Ont.

Shay Colley – Brampton, Ont.

Ruth Hamblin – Houston, B.C.

Quinn Dornstauder – Regina.

Nirra Fields – Montreal.

Delaney Gibb – Raymond, Alta.

Alex Kiss-Rusk – Beconsfield, Que.

Aislinn Konig – Langley, B.C.

Ceejay Nofuente – Toronto.

Katherine Plouffe – Edmonton.

Michelle Plouffe – Edmonton.

Emily Potter – Winnipeg.

Cassandre Prosper – Rosemare, Que.

Merissah Russell – Ottawa.

Jamie Scott – Pasco, Wash.

Canada’s schedule

Feb. 10 – Canada vs. Japan, 5:00 a.m. ET.

Feb. 12 – Canada vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina, 1:00 a.m. ET.

Feb. 13 – Canada vs. Belarus, 1:00 a.m. ET.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2022.

Steven Loung, The Canadian Press