Australian-Lithuanian team Geelong Vytis participates in SALFASS sports festival in Cleveland

Back: Edis Obeliūnas, Victoria Valaityte, Margot Lattanzi, Tomas Ycas, Peter Stauskas, Rimi Kubilius, Renata Simonaviciute, Andrea Kmielauskaite. Front: Peter Fisher, Viktoras Zubrickas, Vaclovas the Kangaroo, Rimi Statkus, Vidas Kubilius. Missing: Gintas

This was a monumental event for the club and for Lithuanians in general, as they celebrated 25-years of independence from Soviet occupation.

It was also the first time any Australian-Lithuanian club has participated in the large North American-Lithuanian sporting tournament.

Geelong Vytis was cordially welcomed by Laurynas Misevičius, president of the SALFASS organisation, Peter Titas and the Cleveland Žaibas Sports Club and the whole North American basketball community.

Teams came from Hamilton, Detroit, NYC and Texas, with multiple teams and clubs from Toronto, Chicago and Cleveland, but none caused a stir quite like Geelong Vytis with our Kangaroo mascot ‘Vaclovas’, koala gifts and post game sukai.

Due to the much larger Lithuanian communities in North America, the Šventė is split up into multiple events throughout the year. This was the main basketball tournament, with table tennis, chess and volleyball also being played.

Other competitions like Golf and veteran’s basketball are held as separate events throughout the year.

The Men’s basketball is split into Divisions A and B with the top tiered Division-A being highly competitive and played at a college type level.

A total of six teams were entered in Division A in 2015 with Chicago Lituanica triumphing over Chicago Juodkrantė in the gold medal match to claim this year’s championship while Toronto Aušra took out the third place.

Division B was contested by 12 teams, including tournament debutants Geelong Vytis.

There are simply too many teams to play a full round robin, so teams are ranked after their first two games.

The top six sides then play off for the Division B trophy while the remaining six form a new C-Division. Geelong Vytis began its campaign in Cleveland facing a talented Toronto Aušra in the opening match.

A slow start saw Vytis trailing 12-24 at the main break before intensity was lifted and scores were tied on 55-points apiece by the final buzzer.

An additional three minutes of overtime saw Aušra prevail in an epic 59-61 nail biter.

Power forward, Viktoras Zubrickas, was the star of the show in defeat for Geelong Vytis with 21 points while the Jaglowitz brothers, Mikas and Matas, did the damage for Aušra.

Next up was Cleveland Žaibas Green in an early morning Saturday game.

Unfortunately the Australian side did not find their rhythm after another slow start and went down to the hot shooting locals 37-55, a score which does not reflect the closeness of this game.

Rimi Statkus kept Geelong in the game, closing down the Cleveland side’s 3-point sniper in the second half.

A tournament ending ankle injury to assistant coach Gintas Dirse soured the defeat further.

Two opening losses resulted in Geelong Vytis’ relegation to Division C as part of the remaining six teams of the opening two games.

Here Geelong Vytis was able to win its first game against Cleveland Žaibas White, 58-54, on the back of some solid defending and fast break work from Kubilius cousins, Vidas and Rimi.

The highlight of this game was matching up against Cleveland’s powerhouse centre and former NFL star and 2003 Super Bowl winner, Joe Jurevicius (former Wide receiver for Tampa Bay).

Jurevicius was kind enough to shout us all a round at the bar after the game.

Geelong Vytis advanced to the Division C championship match against the successful Cleveland Žaibas Gold after securing an underdog victory against Žaibas White.

However prior to this the side was treated to another joyful gathering that Saturday night as it was ‘Susipazinimo Vakaras’ at the very authentic Lithuanian American Citizens Club.

This bared another opportunity for bulvinai blynai and krupnikas with new friends as we enjoyed the music performed by a live band.

This evening also provided the chance to meet former SALFASS president, and long time Chicago hero, Rimantas Dirvonis, who was a close friend of my late grandfather, Antanas Laukaitis.

He was the leader of the American contingent who came to Australia for the 1988 World Lithuanian Games in Adelaide.

This was obviously a sentimental moment for me as we reminisced about my Diedukas.

The Division C championship was contested the following day, June 7, as a curtain raiser for the top tier tournament finals.

There was no slow start for Geelong this time, as our men were hitting the court hard and running fast breaks to lead Cleveland Žaibas Gold 15-26 at halftime.

Tomas Ycas and Peter Stauskas led the way with some great perimeter shooting also.

Cleveland responded with consecutive three point shots in the second half; ironically leveling up the match at 55 apiece with two minutes remaining.

Admittedly this tally wasn’t a fond memory from a few days prior.

However on this occasion an Obeliūnas-Fisher alley-oop and foul combination handed Vytis a 61-58 score line; enough to take out first place in Division C and 7th overall ranking in the B grade.

This was a respectable finish for our club which was under sized throughout the entire tournament.

The games themselves were a fantastic social lubricator and advertiser for the club.

We met Lithuanians from Portland to New York to Texas.

People went out of their way to come and talk to us, or grab a photo with our kangaroo at the stadium, in the hotel and at the Lithuanian club.

Participating in, and being so kindly accepted at such a well-run international Lithuanian event, makes you feel proud to be Lithuanian and makes me even prouder to be part of Geelong Vytis.

The team was eligible for the North American competition because all of its members currently reside in Toronto.

It would not have been possible to enter a team without the help of Toronto Rezistancija members – Gintas Dirse, Peter Stauskas, Viktoras Zubrickas and Peter Fisher and Toronto Aušra point guard, Tomas Ycas – a huge thank you goes out to them.

Since resigning from ALFAS in 2012 the club has sent participants and teams to the 9th World Lithuanian Games in Klaipeda in 2013, winning medals in Golf and Tennis; the 65th SALFASS Sporto Šventė in Cleveland in 2015 winning a medal in basketball, and continues to make the finals in local Geelong leagues.

The next major international goal for the club is to participate at the 10th World Lithuanian Games in Kaunas in 2017. GLSK Vytis realised many years ago that the club cannot survive with only Lithuanian members. We are a proudly multicultural club with a Lithuanian heart.

Geelong Vytis has six teams registered in local competitions currently, more than most other Lithuanian clubs with much larger populations in Australia.

The Geelong Vytis Sports Club would like to thank SALFASS, the Cleveland Žaibas sports club and the greater Cleveland-Lithuanian community for welcoming our club and hosting a fantastic tournament.

We were warmly received everywhere we went.

Geelong Vytis looks forward to seeing their new American friends somewhere soon in the wide world of Lithuanian sports.

Our infamous kangaroo Vaclovas enjoyed it so much there he has found a new home with Peter Titas and Cleveland Žaibas.

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