VILLA EL SALVADOR, PERU– Here’s a math problem for you: There is a runaway train traveling at 100 mph (160 km/h) towards Villa El Salvador, Peru leaving from Canada, meanwhile there is another runaway train leaving from the United States headed to Villa El Salvador also going 100 mph. The question is where will they meet?
The answer: In the finals for Wheelchair Rugby. Simply put, it was #1 Team USA vs. #2 Team Canada. The last of the two undefeated teams colliding for gold.
It was everything that you would expect from a train wreck: hard hits, bumps, bruises and a lot of hurt.
For the United States it was Charles Aoki, Jeffrey Butler, Joshua Wheeler and Joseph Delagrave starting things off, while on the Canadian side of things, it was the foursome of Michael Whitehead, Trevor James Hirshfield, Zachary David Madell , and Eric Furtado Rodrigues.
Just like that, Canada started with the ball and it was the US starting on defense. Madell took it to the house putting Canada up one to nothing, only to be promptly matched by USA’s Delagrave. The U.S. and Canada would trade blow-for-blow, try-by-try, point-by-point for the first quarter.
For Team Canada, the first quarter was the Madell show. Madell scored five almost by himself, performing stellar defense to go with his offense. As team Canada’s game plan consisted of a Zach attack, the United States (for lack of a rhyme) had a true team effort, as they were still able to lead 14-12.
Madell finished the game with 27 points all by himself.
“Those numbers don’t really matter that much to me, that’s what the team is expecting me to do.”,said Madell after the match.
In the second quarter, the Gods of Sport who were watching watching the Lima 2019 feed (live on https://www.teamusa.org/live) changed the channel from the, “Madell Show” to the “Aoki Experience”. Then the network executives on the U.S. Wheelchair Rugby Team cancelled Team Canada’s hopes and dreams of gold. Aoki led Team USA with nine tries in the first half, and 18 in the game. Aoki also never benched, playing a full game.
“You know I train for this, I train to play every game, all game if I need to for my team. Luckily, I haven’t had to do that, but I always tell my coach, if you need me for 32 minutes or 35, however long the game goes I’ll be ready for it.” said a very sweaty Aoki after the medals ceremony. He continued, “I’m hungry, I’m ready to eat right now for energy. I’m ready for a cheeseburger.”
There was a scary moment in the second quarter with exactly three minutes remaining. #10 Joshua Wheeler of the United States was flipped on his head, after being illegally hit from the back by Canada’s #25 Shayne Smith. Wheeler would recover from the murderball hit and continue to play.
Team USA led at the end of two periods, 29-22 over Team Canada.
Wheeler shook off the hit and then took command of the match. So much so, that after the match he simply said,
Wheeler had 14 points in the match, five of which came in the third period of play.
In the third, the U.S. margin hovered at six points by more consistent play by both teams, especially by the United States on defense. Canada was forced to take a time out with 4:40 left in the third as they could not get the ball to the score zone. They would come back from the time out and not score, with the possession clock going to zero, causing a violation. This was the turning point in the game. Canada could not catch up and the United States victory claimed gold 58-47, retaining the title of #1 in the world.
“Our game plan was to be able to press them hard and then when they go over half-court to fall into the key defense, so we got that goal clock violation. That was huge.” Captain Joseph Delagrave said, “ Right away, from the beginning, our goal was to be super aggressive on defense and far more patient on offense to play our style of rugby, and I thought we did that from the tip-off.”
The coaching staff couldn’t be more thrilled with the team play.
“It was a total team victory,” declared coach James Gumbert. He continued, “They played so well together and just unselfish. It goes to the standards that we set at the beginning of the year and just so proud of their fight, their grit and their determination.”
After the players went to the podium and received their golds, Team USA Captain Delagrave (11 tries) had this to say about the effort all tournament by Team USA:
For Team USA the road here was long and hard, and through the cuts and bruises and damage to their chairs that they have, they certainly found pay dirt. Hopefully, for Team USA, the road will continue, as they have now punched their ticket to Tokyo 2020.