The Australian men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams have now set their sights firmly on winning gold at the London Paralympic Games, after both teams emerged victorious today at the 2012 World Challenge in Sydney.
The Gliders toppled Germany 48-46 in a thrilling women’s final at Sydney Olympic Park’s State Sports Centre, before the Rollers defeated Great Britain 70-64 to win the men’s title.
After the Gliders took a 31-27 lead into the final quarter, the gold medal hung in the balance until inside the final minute when German star Marina Mohnen committed a technical foul, her fifth personal foul of the game.
The untimely misdemeanour saw Mohnen foul out and sent Amber Merritt to the free throw line. The West Australian made no mistake.
Clinching to a two-point buffer in the frantic final seconds, the Gliders then held their nerve to not only secure an outstanding victory, but also a timely confidence boost 39 days out from the London Paralympic opening ceremony.
“Germany was very hungry, so for us, it was all about keeping composure. We all knew our jobs and I was just so happy that every player on our team did their job today,” Australian Gliders captain Bridie Kean said.
“I feel like the luckiest person in the world right now. I have to pinch myself on a daily basis. We have such an amazing group of girls playing on this team and we are setting off in three weeks to London to play for gold at the Paralympics. It’s hard to describe the excitement I’m feeling.”
Merritt (14 points) and Cobi Crispin (13 points) led the scoring for the Gliders in the final, but it was the work off the ball from the Australians that caught the eye of their coach.
Asked to pinpoint the one aspect of his team’s performance that pleased him most, the response from Australian Gliders coach John Triscari was emphatic.
“Our defence,” he said.
“I believe our defence is second to none in the world and we focussed a lot on our defence today. We worked very hard to put a lot of pressure on Germany because we know they have found it hard to be effective offensively for long periods against us recently.
“A win like that is very pleasing. There is no doubt that Germany will definitely improve, but so will we. London is still a month away, but I’m very happy with the position we are in at the moment.”
After watching their compatriots claim gold, it was then left to the Rollers to seal a perfect day for the home nation against upcoming Paralympic Games hosts, Great Britain.
And while the Rollers led at every change, Great Britain simply refused to give up during what was a torrid contest that saw the lead change 16 times.
Australian captain Brad Ness, on the verge of his fourth Paralympics, said it was an ideal way to build towards a defence of the gold medal his team won at the Beijing Games in 2008.
“I’m very happy. We’re building nicely towards London, there is a great synergy amongst our whole group and now it is all about taking care of business in London.” Ness said.
“It’s been a great hit-out for us here. Great Britain will be disappointed with that result, but with the home town behind them at the Paralympics and the atmosphere surrounding a home games, they will be a different outfit in a couple of weeks. They will pump up.
“A few of their big guys weren’t at their best here, but you can be sure they will be ready to go in London which is when it matters most.”
The Rollers’ West Australian connection of Ness (16 points), Justin Eveson (18 points), Shaun Norris (16 points) and Michael Hartnett were outstanding for the Rollers in the final, but Australian coach Ben Ettridge was quick to acknowledge the contribution from all 12 players on his roster.
“I couldn’t be happier with our entire group at this stage of our Games preparation,” Ettridge said.
“Everyone is doing their job. There is no ego or selfishness and we are all together chasing one goal.
“The most pleasing thing for me at the tournament was the contribution from each of our 12 players. There are no free tickets to the Paralympic Games and every guy is sitting there ready to come in and make an impact on the game. That’s a great position to be in as a coach.
“We’ll enjoy this win, but in three months time, no one is really going to be holding up their World Challenge medals. There is a bigger picture in front of us, and bigger things to achieve, and that’s what we’re focussing on.”
2012 WORLD CHALLENGE
Sydney Olympic Park
2nd: Great Britain
By Tim Mannion