Oct. 7, 2002
By Jason Leturmy, FSU Sports Information
It is every athlete’s fantasy to one day take part in the greatest sporting event in the world, the Olympics. There is no better feeling than getting the opportunity to represent your country in a sport you love to play, in front of millions of people worldwide. Years of hard work, training, and dedication go into preparing for such an event of this magnitude. But when it’s all said and done and the events are over, nothing else can compare to stepping onto that medal stand, receiving your medal and listening to your national anthem play as your nation’s flag soars toward the sky. This is an occasion that does not come around very often for many athletes, so when the opportunity does come knocking, you have to make the most of it. And that is exactly what Florida State’s Linnea Liljestrand did this past summer in Sweden. Lijestrand had the chance to compete on the Swedish National Basketball team. Team Sweden is looking to qualify for the European World Championships in 2003 and the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, where the Olympics will return to it birthright.
Liljestrand, a sophomore guard from Stockholm, Sweden, played in 27 games for Florida State in 2001-02. In her freshman campaign, she averaged 14.2 minutes and 6.0 points a game. She was a huge contributor from behind the arc throwing in 28 three pointers, which was good for a third place tie on the team. Liljestrand also displayed great touch from the free throw line, shooting a team high 75 percent (27-36).
Over the summer, Liljestrand returned to her homeland to compete for a spot on the Swedish National team. Although she competed in previous years with the Under-20 team as well as the Junior National team, this was her first time battling for a spot on the national level. Liljestrand was anxious to get back to her homeland and see how her talents, after a year of playing at Florida State, had improved compared to the other Swedish players.
“Tryouts were very intimidating at first,” said Liljestrand. “I hadn’t seen or played with any of these girls since I left for college. I was very pleased with my performance out on the court. I felt I had gotten a lot better and was able to compete with the other girls compared to where I was when I left a year ago.”
She did so well that the head coach of the Swedish National team, Eivind Mostl, gave her a spot on the team.
“After that first day of tryouts, I got the feeling right away that he wanted me on the team,” said Liljestrand.
Practices began right away for the team in preparation for qualification into the European World Championships in 2003. Coach Mostl hit the courts looking to get the team back to their winning ways and establish the team on the map as one of the premier basketball countries in Europe. Liljestrand and the rest of her teammates underwent some pretty intense practices involving various running drills as well as several endurance and physical skills tests. Practices consisted of three to four days of morning drills, afternoon shoot around and then evening sessions where the players would go over plays and put everything together from earlier in the day.
“It was so hard,” said Liljestrand. “I was so tired, but at the same time excited to be with everyone. A lot of us had never played with each other and it took some time to gel and get used to everyone’s style of play.”
Liljestrand went on to talk about how the European style of play is a little different than the style of play that many college basketball fans are used to watching in the United States. She then went on to describe how the physical aspects of the girls over in Europe are different than that in the U.S.
“It’s a little bit faster than what my teammates and I are faced with in college,” said Liljestrand. “Team unity is stronger over in Europe. Everyone knows each others talents and style of play and all the players on the court can shoot from anywhere. The girls are taller, leaner and very good shooters. You’ll see post players shooting out on the perimeter and guards fighting for space down in the post. In college basketball, you are faced with some very athletic players who usually like to beat their opponents more on a one-on-one basis.”
After weeks of practice and getting acquainted with everyone, the Swedish National team headed to Finland for its first tournament of the summer. Although the trip for Liljestrand was a memorable one, the living conditions were another story. Due to limited funds, the girls had to settle for your not-so-average run of the mill hotel. Let’s just say it was no Ritz Carlton. But the girls saw this as a way to get to know each other better.
“It really helped in creating a close net group,” said Liljestrand. “You really learn to value the time you have together as a team under these types of conditions.”
The Swedish National team went on to record a 1-2 record in Finland, beating Turkey and losing to its biggest rival Greece and host Finland. The last game of that tournament came against Finland, where Liljestrand was announced as the tournaments Most Valuable Player.
“It was such an honor to be recognized in my first senior national competition,” said Liljestrand. “It was even more exciting to receive the award in one of the most acknowledged basketball countries in Europe.”
After Finland, the team then traveled to Istanbul, Turkey for their second and last tournament of the 2002 exhibition season. The Swedes came in a little short-handed, as injuries plagued the team during practices and left the squad with a nine player roster. The girls persevered through the injury bug and played extremely well although finishing with a 1-2 record. They defeated Belgium and lost to host Turkey. The Swedish National team concluded the tournament with arguably their best performance of the summer against powerhouse Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia had entered the tournament in preparation of the World Championships in China beginning in mid-September. The Swedes held close to Yugoslavia for pretty much the entire game, but the talent, depth, and height of the Yugoslavian team was just too much for Sweden to handle in the end.
“It felt great to be playing for Sweden,” said Liljestrand. “This is something you always dream of doing when you are younger. It’s such a wonderful feeling to be representing your country and playing together with all the other great players from your country.”
Team Sweden and Coach Mostl hope that these tournaments gave them an insight on what they need to improve on as a team and what they need to expect as they prepare to qualify for the World Championships in 2003 and then ultimately the 2004 Olympics in Greece.
As the 2004 Summer Olympics rapidly approaches, be on the look out for Sweden and Linnea Liljestrand. If everything goes as planned, you might just see her on the medal stand, receiving her medal with a tear in her eye and a smile on her face, as the Blue and Yellow is raised to the rafters with Du Gamla, Du Fria (the Swedish National Anthem) playing in the background.