U.S. goalball teams qualify for Rio 2016 Paralympic Games

By Lindsay Simpson | July 05, 2014, 2 p.m. (ET)

ESPOO, Finland ― With a 3-0 win over Russia at the world championships on Friday, the U.S. Women’s Goalball Team qualified for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. The U.S. men also qualified for the Games with a third place finish, beating Lithuania 4-2 in today's bronze medal game.

"It is a tribute to the hard work and commitment to excellence by our athletes and coaches that we have achieved outstanding success in these championships," said Mark Lucas, executive director of the United States Association of Blind Athletes, the organization that manages high performance for U.S. goalball.

The U.S. Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team qualified for Rio with a silver medal at the world championships last month, becoming the first U.S. team to qualify for the competition, Sept. 7-18, 2016, in Brazil. With the qualification of both the men’s and women’s goalball team, now three U.S. teams have secured spots in the competition.

In the women’s finale on Friday, Team USA became the first U.S. team to win a world championship this year. Team USA won gold in a rematch game against Russia, who they lost to 3-0 during their first round robin game on Monday. It is the first team sport world championship

"We always know when we play Russia it's going to be a pretty tough game,” center Amanda Dennis said. “And we knew going into worlds that it was going to be tough.”

Asya Miller came out and scored in the first possession on the game, giving the U.S. an early 1-0 lead. Dennis netted the second and third goals of the game for Team USA.

"We came here to qualify for Rio and we came out as world champions,” Dennis said. “Team USA hasn’t been world champions since 2002 so it [feels] pretty good.”

The U.S. women were cautious on offense, allowing only one penalty throughout the game.

On defense, Team USA blocked a Russian penalty shot to maintain a shutout.  

"We still have a few things to work on," U.S. women's head coach Ken Armbruster said, emphasizing the need to get more experience for the younger women in the program through upcoming international tournaments.

Now that both USA teams have qualified for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, the focus is on being gold medal ready come September 2016.

"This is the beginning of the start of the road to Rio," said John Potts, USABA high performance manager.

In the men’s bronze medal game today, Team USA took an early 1-0 lead when Joe Hamilton scored less than two minutes into the game. Lithuania controlled much of the rest of the half after scoring two unanswered goals and blocking a penalty shot.

Tyler Merren scored two and a half minutes into the second half to give the U.S. the equalizing goal and the momentum in the game. Merren found the net again with 5:57 left to play.

Lithuania was called for a high ball but Merren was then penalized for a high ball on the penalty shot. Immediately after, Lithuania was penalized for illegal coaching on their penalty shot and Merren was able to convert the third penalty shot bringing the score to 4-2 with just over three minutes to play.

Team USA stressed prior to the game that the key to their victory would be efficiency on defense and not giving up any penalties, which proved to be their downfall in Friday’s loss to Finland. They accomplished both objectives and only gave up two penalties during the game, both of which they blocked.

The bronze medal win secures their spot for the Paralympic Games, a goal that has eluded them for the past six years, as the top three teams from the world championships receive an automatic bid.

"We came here to accomplish that goal to qualify and we got it done,” Hamilton said. “To do it against the team that has given us so much trouble over the years makes it so much sweeter.”

Now that Team USA’s goal of qualifying has been accomplished, it is time to plan for their Paralympic performance.

"They'll get a little break to celebrate,” U.S. men's head coach Mike lege said. “But then we'll be back to work because our ultimate goal is to win a medal in the Paralympics, hopefully a gold medal.”