U.S. Women's Sitting Team seeking historic gold at Paralympics

By Karen Patterson (karen.patterson@usav.org) | Sept. 05, 2016, 7:29 a.m. (ET)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (Sept. 5, 2016) – When the 2016 Paralympics begin Sept. 7 with the Opening Ceremony, the U.S. Paralympic Women’s Sitting Team will have one goal on its mind: Make Paralympic history.

The U.S. Women are seeking the program’s first Paralympic gold medal after earning medals at each of the three previous Paralympic Games. China has won gold every Paralympics since women’s sitting volleyball was introduced in 2004.

RELATED: U.S. Women’s Paralympic Roster | U.S. Men’s Paralympic Roster | Rio Microsite

The U.S. Women made their Paralympic debut in 2004, shocking the world with a bronze medal finish. The fledgling program gained strength and momentum in the ensuing four years, battling China for gold at the 2008 Games, but bringing home a silver medal. In London, the U.S. Women hoped to complete the medal cycle but once again fell to China in the gold medal final.

To the casual observer, China, ranked No. 1 worldwide since 2004, may seem favored to win a fourth consecutive gold medal. However, the U.S. Women hold a 6-4 record against their rivals since 2014, and have topped the Chinese in all three meetings this year, including winning gold at the World ParaVolley Intercontinental Cup in Anji, China in March.

 “We’ll continue to push the confidence factor against China,” Women’s Sitting Head Coach Bill Hamiter said. “We know we’ve played well against them when they’re at their best, and we shouldn’t back down from playing them.”

Leading the U.S. are four-time Paralympian Lora Webster (Phoenix, Arizona), and three-time Paralympians Katie Holloway (Lake Stevens, Washington), team captain Heather Erickson (Fayetteville, North Carolina), Nichole Millage (Champaign, Illinois) and Kari Miller (Washington D.C.).

Erickson was named MVP and “Best Spiker” at the Intercontinental Cup, also receiving a 2016 ESPY nomination for “Best Female Athlete with a Disability.” The trio of Webster and Holloway packs a powerful punch that forces an opponent’s defense to elevate its game. However, any success will require contributions from the entire roster.

“We’re looking for consistent play from everyone,” Hamiter said. “We know the abilities of our athletes and we want them to use those as abilities as consistently as possible. If we play at our level, we give ourselves a good chance of winning every match.”

The No. 2-ranked U.S. Women will meet China in pool play along with No. 9 Iran and No. 13 Rwanda; the latter two are making their Paralympic debut. Host-nation Brazil automatically received the top seed for the tournament, putting China, seeded No. 2, and third-seeded U.S. together in Pool B.

The U.S. Women’s Sitting Team begins its Paralympic competition on Sept. 10 against Iran, a team it defeated 3-0 at the Intercontinental Cup in March. Despite the sweep, Hamiter expects a tough, scrappy opponent. Although the Iranian women’s team is less experienced, the country has a rich history in sitting volleyball: The Iranian men have medaled in every Paralympic Games since 1988, with five gold medals.

“The (women’s team) knows how to play, how to coach and their players are well-versed in the game. They’re very smart players and they play with a lot of heart. They’re not going to let easy balls go down,” Hamiter said of the U.S.’s first opponent. “We saw a lot of positive things from them in March and we’ll have to be at our best and make sure we play really good defense.”

The U.S. Women face China on Sept. 12 and finish pool play against Rwanda on Sept. 14. The top two teams advance to the semifinals in a crossover match against the top two seeded teams from Pool A, comprised of Brazil, Ukraine, Canada and Netherlands, which replaced Russia following the International Paralympic Committee’s ban of the Russian delegation.

Brazil and Ukraine are the top-seeded teams in Pool A and are likely candidates to advance to the medal round. However, worldwide No. 5 Netherlands and Canada are not too be overlooked.

U.S. Paralympic Women’s Sitting Volleyball Team Roster
No. Name (Position, Height, Hometown)
1. Lora Webster (MB, 5-11, Phoenix, Ariz.)
2. 
Bethany Zummo (L, 5-2, Dublin, Calif.)
3. 
Alexis Shifflett (S, 5-4, Waseca, Minn.)
4. 
Michelle Schiffler (OH/MB, 6-0, Lake Wales, Fla.)
5. 
Katie Holloway (OH, 6-3, Lake Stevens, Wash.)
6. 
Heather Erickson (OH, 5-11, Fayetteville, NC)
7. 
Monique Burkland (OH, 5-9, Ardmore, Okla.)
10. 
Kari Miller (L, 5-6, Washington D.C.)
13. 
Nichole Millage (OH, 5-7, Champaign, Ill.)
14. Kaleo Kanahele (S, 5-6, Edmond, Okla.)
16. 
Nicky Nieves (MB, 5-10, Kissimmee, Fla.)
17. 
Tia Edwards (OH, 5-7, Skitatook, Okla.)

Head Coach: Bill Hamiter
Team Leader: Michelle Goodall
Assistant Coaches: Cara Lang and Lazaro Beltran
Technical Coordinator: Jeff Hicks
Athletic Trainer: Patrick Lawrence

2016 Paralympic Games Women’s Sitting Volleyball Pools
Pool A: Brazil, Ukraine, Netherlands, Canada
Pool B: China, United States, Iran, Rwanda

2016 Paralympic Games Women’s Sitting Volleyball Schedule
All times EDT

Sept. 9
Brazil vs. Canada, 5:30 p.m.
Ukraine vs. Netherlands, 8:30 p.m.

Sept. 10
China vs. Rwanda, 9 a.m.
USA vs. Iran, 1 p.m.

Sept. 11
Canada vs. Netherlands, 2:30 p.m.
Brazil vs. Ukraine, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 12
Rwanda vs. Iran, 9 a.m.
USA vs. China, 5:30 p.m.

Sept. 13
Netherlands vs. Brazil, 10 a.m.
Ukraine vs. Canada, 5:30 p.m.

Sept. 14
USA vs. Rwanda, 9 a.m.
Iran vs. China, 1 p.m.

Sept. 15
Women’s 7th-8th Classification, 12:30 p.m.
Women’s 5th-6th Classification, 2:30 p.m.
Semifinal 1, 5:30 p.m.
Semifinal 2, 7:30 p.m.

Sept. 17
Women’s bronze medal match, 3:30 p.m.
Women’s gold medal match, 6 p.m.