by Mariya Abedi
RIO DE JANIERO – Team USA’s Joseph Hamilton and John Kusku just kept the throws coming at the Futura Arena in Rio, leading the team to victory against China in their first game of the 2016 Paralympics.
The California-native scored in the first two minutes of the game, tying the score 1-1. But the game didn’t stay tied for very long: Hamilton and Kusku both scored minutes later, with Hamilton scoring on penalty shot, bringing the game to 3-1.
China made two substitutions in the second half, but that didn’t affect Team USA. Hamilton and Kusku continued to bring their A-game to the arena and scored twice more, giving the team a 5-2 win. Four-time Paralympian Tyler Merren was the third team member on the court; the trio played the entire game without any substitutions.
“To come out here and play flawless three-on-three defense, which is a priority for our defense in this tournament, just really feels great,” Hamilton said of the team’s performance.
Team USA had 77 blocks and threw 91 balls, with Merren throwing 35 and Hamilton throwing 28. Kusku threw the other 25.
“We had the perfect amount of energy. We didn’t let ourselves get too up or too down and that’s exactly what you need to do in this sport,” Hamilton added.
The 38-year-old is no newcomer to the game. He was part of the team for the Sydney Paralympics in 2000 and came in 11th place. Hamilton began playing goalball when he was 10 years old. He had partial sight in his left eye at the time but was left completely blind after a snowboarding accident just two years later.
Team USA will be facing Lithuania next, another member of the unofficial “group of death,” which also consists of Finland, Turkey, Japan and the U.S. All the countries in the group are considered medal contenders.
But Finland will have its eyes set on beating Brazil. The two have become competitive rivals in the sport after Finland defeated Brazil in the 2012 London Paralympic Games. Brazil reclaimed its glory after beating Finland 9-1 in the 2014 IBSA Goalball World Championships.
Team USA is meanwhile focusing on one game at a time.
“We’re taking the tournament one day at a time and attacking our challenges as they present themselves to us,” Coach Matthew Boyle said about the team’s strategy as they make their way closer to the quarterfinals.
“We’re really calm and relaxed and are making sure we don’t look too far ahead or focus on games we’ve already played,” he added.
And in women’s goalball, the U.S. team didn’t get a chance to redeem themselves after a disappointing loss to Brazil (7-3) on Thursday, the first day of preliminary games. Algeria forfeited the game after being a no-show, allowing the U.S. team to automatically win.
They have two more preliminary games against Japan and Israel before the quarterfinals. The U.S. team wasn’t able to make it that far at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, and they’ll have to finish in the top four of their group to advance this time around.
Mens: USA vs. China (5-2)
Womens: USA vs. Algeria (WIN)
The U.S. Men’s Team will play Lithuania on Saturday, September 10th at 12:15 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.
The U.S. Women’s Team will be playing Japan on Sunday, September 11th at 9:15 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.
It’s been half a century since goalball was introduced at the 1976 Toronto Paralympics. The sport was originally designed to help veterans with visual impairment. Players are blindfolded and use a ball with bells in it. Teams of three play two 12-minutes halves.