Harder, better, faster, stronger: Kibirkštis Vilnius ready to shine
Return of the decade, state of the art gym, participation in multiple European competitions – Kibirkštis Vilnius enter the 2023 season with a bang.
The Sparks management made a bold move and parted ways with the head coach Algirdas Paulauskas on February 18, 2020.
It happened 11 days before the Final Four of the Douglas Women`s Baltic Basketball league and three days and three days after a 71-79 loss against Aistes LSMU Kaunas at the Queen`s Cup final.
Gitautas Kievinas took over and it proved to be a smart move.
The start was rough.
Kibirkštis suffered a triple overtime (!) loss against Aistes LSMU at the Baltic League semifinals in Riga and the season was suspended two weeks later.
There were no Baltic league games the next season due to numerous restrictions and lockdowns.
Kibirkštis sailed through the stormy waters and made the EWBL Top 8 for the first time since 2017.
On January 14, 2021, the Sparks beat Olimpia Grodno 61-45 to secure a Top 4 finish in the Group B.
Vilnius team lost the quarterfinal series against Ukrainian side Prometey but won the Queen`s Cup on March 6, 2021 at the Jeep arena.
It was the first Lithuania Cup win for the team since 2014.
Kibirkštis pushed on and secured back-to-back Lithuania titles, winning the final series over Neptūnas Klaipeda, 3-1 and 3-0, respectively.
The Sparks also secured the first trip to the EWBL Final Four and won the historic bronze medal on March 20, 2022 after a 87-69 win over SBŠ Ostrava.
One week later Kibirkštis earned a silver medal at the Baltic league dropping the final game against TTT Rīga 62-68.
Last but not least – the Sparks won the Neodenta Queen`s Cup.
Vilnius team had a big offseason.
Management extended deals with the coaching duo – Gitautas Kievinas and Sandrą Linkevičienę, as well as physio therapist Indrė Venskevičiūtė.
Lithuania national team captain Gintarė Petronytė returned to the homeland after 13 seasons abroad.
National team forward Laura Juškaitė represented Kibirkštis from 2015 to 2018 and is joining the Sparks again.
She played in Poland, Spain and France in between.
Her biggest success is the 2021 FIBA EuroCup Women title with Valencia Basket.
Gintarė Mažionytė played in Italy, Australia, Spain and Sweden before signing at Kibirkštis.
Power forward missed the last season due to injury.
Justina Kraujūnaitė returned to the team after a one year break.
Karoliną Kazočiūnaitę, Liviją Sakevičiūtę, Justina Miknaitė, Eglė Zabotkaitė, Gabriele Šulske stayed with the Sparks.
Kibirkštis strengthened the back court with experienced American guard Rachel Theriot.
A Cleveland native six seasons played for Tsmoki Minsk (2016-2022).
Nebraska standout made the EWBL final at Rostov on Don in 2019.
Gerda Raulušaitytė and Ugnė Sirtautaitė won the 2022 European U18 championship after a 78-75 win over Spain on August 14 at Matosinhos, Portugal.
Strength and conditioning coach Ugnius Savickas earned a silver medal at the 2022 European U20 championship for men.
Kibirkštis is the first Lithuanian club at the FIBA competitions after a five year break.
Vilnius team will play in the Group F of the EuroCup Women, facing an Israel vice-champion Maccabi bnot Ashdod, Uni Gyor from Hungary and one of the following three teams from the EuroLeague qualifiers – Botaš Ankara, DVTK Miškolc or Elizur Ramla.
Kibirkštis will start the European campaign in Turkey, Hungary or Israel on October 27.