The U.S. women's goalball team poses on the podium after winning silver at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 3, 2021 in Tokyo.
TOKYO — Facing the defending gold medalists in Friday night’s women’s goalball finals at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, Team USA was looking to do what they did in the preliminary round when they beat Turkey 4-3, after trailing 3-1.
Despite playing through a deficit to come back throughout most of the tournament, the U.S. women could not stop the tournament’s leading scorer, Turkey’s Sevda Altunoluk, who put nine goals into the back of the net in the first eight minutes of play.
Throughout the 10-day tournament, the two-time Paralympian Altunoluk racked up an impressive 46 goals and would be responsible for eight of the nine goals scored against the U.S. tonight, where the final score was 9-2.
The silver medal marks the 12th Paralympic medal in USA Goalball history and the women’s team’s seventh. Their last time in the Games resulted in the bronze medal in Rio.
Lead scorer Amanda Dennis from Peachtree City, GA, was unable to assist on the court as she was out with an injury — a move U.S. head coach Jake Czechowski said was ultimately his decision.
“Clearly, everybody saw that we did not have our full squad available,” said Czechowski. “We had a pre-game injury, and I’m always going to err on the side of caution for my athletes. We want to play and compete and beat everybody in the world, but never at the expense of health.”
“We had such a tough journey to get to this gold medal match; every moment of every game meant so much to me,” Lisa Czechowski said after coming off the court.
“I’m so very, very proud. It was such a great tournament. Kudos to Turkey; they played a fantastic game. Kudos to our team. We had a fantastic tournament.”
Czechowski would know.
Tokyo was her fourth goalball medal and sixth straight Games — the same for her teammate Asya Miller, 41, responsible for the U.S.’s final point of the night. The two athletes hold the record of the most goalball medals in Paralympic Games history.
“It’s an honor to achieve this milestone. I have played with so many amazing goalball athletes from the United States and competed against so many more,” Czechowski added. “I’m so proud to be a part of Team USA and a part of our team.”
Eliana Mason, who accounted for 45 of the team’s 104 total throws, shared what the group discussed in the huddle before the game.
“We said, ‘Enjoy the moment.’ We’ve been saying for four years, ‘We want to be in the gold medal match in the Paralympics.’ We’re here, and you don’t want to spend that moment not enjoying it,” she said. “So we were [telling each other] to be present in this moment.”
For coach Czechowski, one of his favorite moments of the tournament was “watching these women — the strength and the perseverance they’ve shown over the last few years, watching every moment on the court turn into more and more and more determination,” he said.
“They refuse to quit. They refuse to give up. From a coaching standpoint, there is not a team in the world I’d rather be around — and it’s a blessing for me to be able to work with these women.”
And now that the sport has received primetime coverage on the world’s stage, Lisa Czechowski was “excited for all the exposure that goalball has received from the Games,” she said. “We’re just so excited to see how it will just continue to take off in the United States, and more and more people are going to learn about our amazingly great sport.”
But for now, the husband and wife team are anxious to get home to their son “see our family a little bit,” the head coach said, “and then we’re going to get right back to work.”
In the women’s bronze medal match, host country Japan defeated Brazil 6-1.
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo-2020-Paralympic-Games to view the medal table and results.