2008 PARALYMPIC GAMES: U.S. Wheelchair Rugby Team Defeats Great Britain, 35-32, to Earn Berth in Gold Medal GameBEIJING, China -Four years ago at the Athens Paralympics, the United States didn't even have the opportunity to play for the gold medal. The team was upset by Canada in the semifinals and had to settle for bronze. Since that day, the U.S. has been on a mission to get back to the gold medal game and sit atop the medal podium once again. On Monday, Team USA got one step closer to its goal, defeating Great Britain, 35-32, to earn a berth in the championship game.
"We'll definitely enjoy this win for a little bit, but it's not over," said U.S. head coach James Gumbert (Austin, Texas). "Our ultimate goal is to win five games. It feels great to get the fourth win under our belt, but now it's time to refocus and get ready for the last one."
As it's done all tournament long, the U.S. rotated an endless array of line-ups into the game to wear down the opponent and keep up its own energy and momentum. Despite the fresh bodies, the U.S. was having a difficult time putting a run on the Brits. With the U.S. and Great Britain entwined in a back and forth contest - the U.S. held just a 25-24 lead entering the fourth quarter - Gumbert said it was the contributions of two of his youngest players that helped make the difference in today's victory.
"What Nick Springer (St. Petersburg, Fla./New York, N.Y.) and Joel Wilmoth (Hueytown, Ala.) gave us today was unbelievable. They're the two youngest kids on the team and they came out and played like seasoned veterans. Their defensive performances were just phenomenal," said Gumbert.
With five and a half minutes to go in the fourth, the U.S. turned the ball over on a bad pass and an ensuing Great Britain goal tied the game at 27. Seth McBride (Portland, Ore./Juneau, Alaska) quickly scored to put the U.S. back up by one and then tough defense by Bryan Kirkland (Leeds, Ala.) on the inbounds pass forced Great Britain to fumble and give the ball right back to the USA. A goal by Andy Cohn (Tempe, Ariz.) gave the U.S. the two point lead and put the British away for good.
"The USA's biggest strength is that we're 11 guys strong. There are 11 different starters on this team and we can confidently play any one of them at any point in the game. That helps all of us go out on the court and give it our all knowing there are seven guys on the bench that can back us up and come in fresh and ready to go," said Springer, who had eight assisted blocks in the game.
Will Groulx (Portland, Ore.) once again led Team USA, tallying 13 goals against Great Britain. The other top scorers for the U.S. were Kirkland and Cohn who each chipped in five goals. Cohn also had seven assists.
"This is where we wanted to be. Every one of us that was on the Athens team [that lost in the semifinals four years ago] remembered what that bus ride felt like and we didn't want to feel that again," said Mark Zupan (Austin, Texas). "We played our butts off and it showed. But, this is just a step. We didn't come here to play in the gold medal game. We came here to win the gold medal."
The U.S. takes on Australia in the gold medal game on Tuesday, Sept. 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Science & Technology of Beijing Gymnasium.
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