The Fall Of The Reigning Champions: USA Will Play For Bronze

TOKYO, Japan — In the last match of the day at the Ariake Arena in Tokyo, the US women’s wheelchair basketball lost their chances of defending the gold medal they won at the Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. 

Team USA fell to China 41-36, in a match that definitely did not shine for the shooting percentages of either team.

The first quarter was very balanced between the two teams. They both shined in their defenses and lacked in their shooting. At the end of the first quarter, the United States had a three-point lead. Unfortunately, it was a gap that Team USA was not able to maintain or increase until the end of the match. 

Rose Hollermann looks on as The United States loses to China on September 2, 2021. (PHOTO CREDIT: Michael A. Clubine)

But it is in the second quarter where China’s decisive break happened changing the sort of the game. Not only China closed the three-point gap from the Americans, but it increased its lead finishing the first half of the match with a five-point lead. 

After that second quarter, the players coached by Lawrence ‘Trooper’ Johnson, did not manage to take back the lead of the game. 

However, even though China lead the match for more than 25 minutes, nothing was decided until the very end. With one minute and a half left, the United States had the chance to tie the match, but as it happened for the rest of the game, the ball simply was not dropping.

“I don’t know, I’m not sure why buckets weren’t going in,” said co-captain Natalie Schneider after the match. “But you know, I don’t know. It’s all part of the game.”

When there were only 44 seconds left in the game, the USA was behind by only two points. It could have gone either way. But Team USA missed a few chances, and as a result, they had to foul and concede free throws, and China did not miss the incredible occasion to increase the gap at the end of the match. 

Courney Ryan (55, USA) Passes the ball over the Chinese defenders on September 2, 2021 (PHOTO CREDIT: Michael A. Clubine)

“I was super-nervous,” said Zhang Tonglei after scoring four free throws at the end of the match.  

“When I was shooting the free throws, I was remembering my training in China. At that time, we had to do two laps around the whole court and make two free throws. And if I made two shots, I didn’t have to do the next two laps.”

“And at the end of the game when I was shooting the free throws, I just remembered when I was training and I was thinking, ‘If I can make these two shots I don’t have to do these two laps’,” Zhang added. 

If in other games of the Paralympics some of the players would bring a stellar performance to help the team achieve the victory, today, none of the players shined bright, as the entire team underperformed, with only 32% of field goals. 

“We kept the USA player far from the hoop,” China player Lin Suiling said. “Asd we kept communicating all through the game and we had good teamwork.”  

For Team USA, this is not the first time it lost to China in this tournament, as the match-up in the pool stage also finished with a loss for the Americans and a win for China. 

Rose Hollermann with the ball in the loss to China. September 2, 2021 (PHOTO CREDIT: Michael A. Clubine)

But the Paralympic journey is not over yet for Team USA as they still have the possibility to win a bronze medal and not to go back home empty-handed. They will need to find the strength to get up quickly after this loss.  

“We have a really young resilient team,” Schneider said. “So I think we will bounce back. We’ll take a little time tonight and […] we’ll start preparing for Germany tomorrow and take it from there.”

USA will play Germany on Saturday, September 4 at 17.45 Japan Standard Time.

For more photos please check out photos.wheelchairsportsfederation.org

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