From The Hardcourt To The Hardwood: Mackenzie Soldan Vies For A Second Paralympic Games

By Joe Clarke | June 08, 2016, 4:09 p.m. (ET)

Soldan competed in wheelchair tennis before making the transition to wheelchair basketball.

Three months from now the U.S. women’s wheelchair basketball team looks to leave a golden imprint on the hardwood as the women’s wheelchair basketball tournament gets underway at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Paralympian Mackenzie Soldan is striving to be on the roster that represents Team USA in Rio and make her second Games, but her experience could be different than 2012.

Soldan saw her first Paralympic Games action, not on the basketball court, but on the tennis court. The Michigan native competed in both the singles and doubles tournaments at the London 2012 Paralympic Games, making it to the second round in the singles tournament and falling in the opening round of the doubles contest. Having Games experience is an undeniable benefit for Soldan as she looks to portray what the Games are like for her teammates who are hoping to attend their first.

“I’ve told the ones who may be attending their first Games to enjoy the experience while you are there,” Soldan said. “There’s a lot of pressure at the time because it is something we have been working for three years now. The key for me was staying in the moment, both on the court and off the court, when I went last time and really appreciating what you’ve done to get there.”

Soldan is looking to make a roster that will ultimately be compiled by head coach Stephanie Wheeler, who got a good look at where the team stands after Team USA hosted a series of international friendlies at the Colorado Springs Olympic Training Center.

The U.S. concocted a perfect 6-0 record against Brazil, Canada and China by the conclusion of the friendlies and Wheeler was pleased to have such a stellar mark against high-quality teams.

“Every game this week we have been challenged in some way to get better,” Wheeler noted. “Whether it is our end-game management, our offensive or defensive execution and then to have a team [China] that is in our pool is huge. You never want to go into the Paralympic Games not knowing who your competition is. For China to come over and be at this competition with us, gives us that leg up so when we get to Rio our girls have confidence.”

That confidence is already instilled in an athlete like Soldan, who Wheeler feels would bring a unique element to the roster.

“Firstly, Mackenzie is one of the most athletic people I have ever been around in my life,” Wheeler stated. “She brings a sense of athleticism to our team. She can come into certain line ups to give us another scorer because she is a great shooter. She is someone who is a great supporter of her teammates and she’s going to do whatever she needs to do to make our team better.”

Playing Brazil, Canada and China three months before the Games served as a great measuring stick for Soldan and her U.S. teammates. The Americans won their games by an average of 31.5 points, including a 42-point drubbing of 2014 world champion Canada. These type of games allow for Soldan and her teammates to improve, especially as Rio approaches.

“We definitely got better after this tournament,” Soldan said. “After every game we find our mistakes, we do video sessions, we talk to the coaches and talk to each other. I think we still have more to grow, which is great.”

Shifting sports can be a rough transition, but Soldan’s ability to adapt and maintain a strong mental edge on the court has allowed her to play with the best. She hopes to have the opportunity to make another Paralympic Games and help the team achieve its primary objective: gold.

Below are Team USA’s results from the international friendlies at the Olympic Training Center June 5-7:

Game 1: USA 73 – China 50; Game 2: USA 70 – Canada 66; Game 3: USA 84 – Brazil 34; Game 4: USA 70 – China 45; Game 5: USA 86 – Canada 44; Game 6: USA 78 – Brazil 33

The pools for the women’s tournament in Rio are as follows:

Pool A
Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Great Britain

Pool B
Algeria, China, France, Netherlands, USA

The Rio 2016 Paralympic Games women’s wheelchair basketball tournament begins Sept. 8 and runs through Sept. 16.

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