BEIJING, China -The U.S. Wheelchair Rugby Team withstood a furious fight from Japan on Saturday to secure its second victory of the preliminary round, 44-37. The win locked up a spot in the medal round for Team USA.
The Americans' pressure defense put Japan on its heels from the start. Three turnovers by the Japanese in the first quarter gave the U.S. a three goal lead, which it held onto throughout the first half and into the start of the fourth quarter. The quarter began with Team USA leading 31-28, but a turnover and ensuing score by Japan narrowed the gap to just two goals.
"We knew Japan was going to be fighting like dogs," said Andy Cohn (Tempe, Ariz.). "We jumped them early and then relaxed a little bit. It's a good lesson for us that you can't relax at the big tournaments."
The U.S. didn't relax for long. That one mistake seemed to kick the team's intensity to a higher gear and the Americans responded by forcing four turnovers in the quarter, three of which came in the last two and half minutes.
"This team does a great job of supporting each other when we make mistakes," said co-captain Bryan Kirkland (Leeds, Ala.). "We kept our composure, didn't get down and just kept playing."
Will Groulx (Portland, Ore.) led the U.S. with 12 goals and four steals, while Kirkland pitched in 11 goals and four assists. Also getting on the board were Mark Zupan (Austin, Texas) with seven goals, Nick Springer (St. Petersburg, Fla./New York, N.Y.) and Cohn with five goals each and Joel Wilmoth (Hueytown, Ala.) with four goals.
"Our team's biggest asset is that we're 11 strong, we're not just one guy or one line-up," said U.S. head coach James Gumbert (Austin, Texas). "No matter what four we put on the floor today, they fought. They played with heart and intensity and never gave up on any play."
The U.S. wraps up pool play against archrival Canada on Sunday, Sept. 14, at 3:00 p.m. at the Beijing Science & Technology University Gymnasium. Four years ago at the Athens Paralympics, Canada defeated the United States in the semifinals, knocking the Americans out of contention for the gold medal and the U.S. finished with bronze.
For more information, or to arrange an athlete interview, please contact Susan Katz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 139-1075-4845 (Dial 011-86 plus the local number if calling from the U.S.).