Natalie Schneider and Darlene Hunter celebrate winning bronze at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Sept. 5, 2021.
TOKYO – Team USA’s women’s wheelchair basketball squad won bronze on Saturday in the first of two medal games on Saturday at the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020.
The Americans dominated Germany 64-51, taking the lead seven minutes into the first quarter and never giving it up. Four players put up double-digital point totals in the bronze medal game; Lindsay Zurbrugg (22 points), Courtney Ryan (14 points), Rose Hollermann (12 points) and Natalie Schneider (12 points).
“It feels amazing to be bringing home a bronze medal,” said Darlene Hunter, Team USA co-captain. “I know everybody wants the gold but when you can't get in a gold medal game, the next best thing is to finish it and get the medal. Especially with nine rookies on our team, everybody doubted us. We came in and just showed that we're here.”
The Netherlands took gold, beating out silver medalists China 50-31. The U.S. lost to both teams, falling to the Netherlands 68-58 in preliminary play and losing to China 42-36 in the semifinal.
In the bronze medal game, veterans Rose Hollermann and Natalie Schneider and kept control of the Germans, putting up 12 and 11 rebounds respectively. First-time Paralympian Lindsay Zurbrugg had been a standout scorer for Team USA throughout the tournament. She led scoring for the U.S. with 22 points in their final game.
“I'm really happy to have ended with such a great game today,” Zurbrugg said. “I attribute my success to the unwavering confidence that my teammates have in me. Even when there is off day in any aspect of the game, they would always be able to pick me up and anybody up at any given time. This team is a family.”
The U.S. came into the Games as the defending Paralympic gold medalists, but missed the gold medal game after a disappointing loss to China in the semifinals. Team co-captain Natalie Schneider said the team focused inward to reset for Saturday’s final.
“We really reminded everyone that our journey wasn't over yet and made sure that we all focused in after the China game,” Schneider said. “It was a really tough loss. We went in the locker room and we said ‘okay, be sad for tonight and then tomorrow we're going to wake up and do work and get ready to play Germany.’ I think it really paid off. Everyone on the team came in really focused and ready to have fun.”
Team USA’s squad included nine first-time Paralympians, many of whom saw playing time towards the end of the game. Both co-captains said leading this young team through the tournament was a highlight of their Games experience.
“The rookies were so much fun,” Schneider said. “This is my fourth Games so I l loved getting to see the Paralympics again through their eyes with everything being new and so exciting and overwhelming. It was so much fun to see it through their eyes, and they made it an even more enjoyable experience than it already was.”
The influx of young talent is a testament to the growth of the Paralympic movement in the U.S. It’s something Schneider, a four-time Paralympian and 3-time Paralympic medalist, has witnessed firsthand.
“Coming home a gold medalist after my fist Games in Beijing, nobody even really knew what the Paralympics were at that,” Schneider said. “Now I'm getting so many messages on social media. I've got like people at home in my community and surrounding communities setting their alarms to turn on their TV and watch us play at 3:45 in the morning. It's been so amazing, and it just makes me so proud to be a Paralympian”
While the Team USA men will battle for back-to-back golds on Sunday against Japan, the women plan to take some time off and focus on their lives outside of sport. Schneider will return to life as a mom of three young daughters. Zurbrugg and Hunter planned to return to the world of higher education.
Zurbrugg will go back to the University of Alabama to play out her last season of eligibility while pursuing her master’s degree in nutrition with the goal of becoming a dietitian. Hunter, a college professor, will return to her classroom to catch up on the first two weeks of school that she missed while competing in Tokyo. And she plans to bring proof of her hard work.
“Of course, I am going to bring my medal to class,” Hunter said. “You have to show that to the people who just let you off for two weeks and prove that you really did do what you said you were going to do.”
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.