USA Wheelchair Rugby take on five Americas Zone nations March 9-13 at the Americas Wheelchair Rugby Championship in Medellin, Colombia. This is the first competition of the 2022 season for Team USA featuring a mix of new talent and experienced veterans. All games can be watched at http://wwr2022americas.com/.
- March 9, 9 a.m. CT USA vs. Colombia, 57-37
- March 9, 2 p.m. CT Argentina vs. USA, 28-57
- March 10, 10:30 a.m. CT Chile vs. USA, 10-50
- March 11, 8:30 a.m. CT USA vs. Canada, 47-51
- March 11, 3:30 p.m. CT Brazil vs. USA, 37-60
- March 12, 10:30 a.m. CT (Semifinal) USA vs. Colombia, 59-24
- March 12, 3:30 p.m. CT (Gold Medal Match) Canada vs. USA, 50-54
Championship: Canada vs. USA
The gold medal match of the Americas Championship was unsurprisingly a rematch against northern neighbor and legendary rival, Canada. USA was looking to bounce back from the defeat Canada had served them the day prior. The American line of Chuck Aoki, Josh Wheeler, Josh O’Neill and Lee Fredette started things off. Canada got the tip and scored the first try, but that did not frazzle the U.S. who quickly inbounded to Aoki and opened up a path for him to score. The first half of the quarter saw the U.S. and Canada exchanged tries, but with 4:57 left to go in the first, a poor pass from Canadian Anthony Letourneau to Zak Madell caused the first turnover of the game and allowed USA to take an 8-7 lead. After the lead change, Kory Puderbaugh and Joe Jackson came in for Wheeler and O’Neill. Tough defense from Puderbaugh and Fredette forced Madell to call a timeout. This led to another turnover for the Canadians and allowed USA to take a two-point lead. A tense final minute of the quarter saw Josh O’Neill head to the penalty box giving Canada a power play and easy score. A half-court pass from Wheeler to Mason Symons with just seconds to go almost increased the lead to two, but Symons was not able to hang on to the ball as he crossed the line, and the first quarter ended dramatically, 15-14.
The second quarter started like the first with Aoki, Wheeler, Fredette and O’Neill. Canada started with possession and scored the first try to tie it back up at 15 all. After a quick sub of Puderbaugh and Jackson for Wheeler and O’Neill, Aoki intercepted a Canadian pass and was then fouled, giving the U.S. the opportunity for a power play and chance to take the lead back to two, 20-18. Halfway through the second quarter, a fabulous stop by Liz Dunn forced Canada to take another time out to prevent a 12-second violation. USA was able to take a breath, and it looked like they would finish the first half with a lead. But with less than two minutes to go, Canadian Shayne Smith intercepted a pass from Aoki to Puderbaugh allowing Canada to tie it up and end the first half 27-27.
USA Started the third with possession of the ball. After an equipment issue from O’Neill, Puderbaugh and Jackson subbed in joining Aoki and Fredette. In an effort to prevent a USA score, Canadian Smith was sent to the penalty box for leaving the court, and USA was able to get an easy four on three try, making it 34-33. Coming out of a time out, USA, just like in the second quarter, was able to intercept a Canadian pass and extend the lead to 35-33. With just over two minutes left in the third, both Canadian and American defenses cranked up the pressure forcing both sides to fight for every try and use the clock. With just under a minute to go and after an equipment repair for Wheeler, Aoki intercepted a pass from Madell at the goal line. This allowed USA to control the valuable last seconds of the quarter and score with just three seconds remaining, ending the third 41-38.
Tension was high as the fourth quarter began. Great defense from Jackson and Puderbaugh forced Canadian Madell to take another valuable time out. USA controlled the clock using their time with each possession to decrease the time Canada had to come back. With less than four minutes to go, a poor pass on a Canadian inbound allowed Aoki to intercept and increase the lead to four, 49-45. USA would finish with Aoki, Jackson, Eric Newby and Chuck Melton, maintain the four-point lead, and win the championship 54-50.
Semifinal: USA vs Colombia
The final day of competition started with a semifinal rematch against host nation Colombia. For USA, Chuck Aoki, Josh Wheeler, Lee Fredette and Josh O’Neill started the match. Colombia got the tip and were first to score. U.S. started with a turnover but quickly tightened up their defense to force a turnover for Colombia and prevent a two point deficit. A hard hit midway through the first quarter caused another Colombian turnover which put USA up 5-4. That hit ushered a momentum shift in the game. Relentless defense from USA made it difficult for Colombia to inbound the ball and advance down the court, and USA’s offense started clicking. With 1:30 to go in the first quarter, Liz Dunn and Mason Symons joined Aoki and Wheeler. A beautiful full-court pass from Wheeler to Aoki allowed the line to finish the first with a 14-11 lead. Colombia started the second quarter with the ball, and the U.S. started with Aoki, Kory Puderbaugh, Joe Jackson and Eric Newby. Aoki was able to swat away the Colombian inbound pass and set up Puderbaugh for his first try of the match. Sarah Adam, Montrerius Hucherson, Chuck Melton and Liz Dunn came in halfway through the second with a fresh offensive look and relentless defensive effort. At the end of the second quarter Colombia took advantage of a USA line change to create a turnover and score a try. But the U.S. continued to power to a 30-15 lead at the half. The third and fourth quarters saw rhythmic line changes to keep players fresh and provide valuable experience, and USA finished strong with a 59-24 victory.
Game 4: USA vs Canada
Day 3 of the 2022 Americas Championship started early and heated up quickly as USA took on perennial rival Canada. USA started the match with Chuck Aoki, Josh Wheeler, Josh O’Neill and Lee Fredette. Wheeler got the tip and quickly tallied the first try of the game. Both teams got into their offensive grooves exchanging tries, and despite an early turnover, USA maintained a two point advantage. Things became uncertain for USA midway through the first when a turnover and over and back call allowed Canada to tie and then take a 12-11 lead. A line change of Josh Wheeler, Chuck Aoki, Mason Symons and Liz Dunn late in the first applied pressure and managed the clock well to finish the quarter tied 15 all. The start of the second quarter saw Kory Puderbaugh and Joe Jackson join Aoki and Fredette. Hard pressure from the Canadians forced multiple turnovers and a 10-second no dribble call, which allowed Canada to once again take the lead. With Chuck Aoki experiencing issues with this rugby chair, a new line of Chuck Melton, Eric Newby, Josh Wheeler and Liz Dunn took to the court as Canada extended its lead by two, 24-22. With just one minute to go in the half, Aoki, Wheeler, Symons and Dunn entered the match and applied hard defensive pressure to Canada, but it wasn’t enough and the U.S ended the second quarter down 35-38. The intensity began to rise in the third. Multiple lines took to the court, which showed solid and decisive defense on the Canadians, but turnovers continued to halt the American’s momentum and they ended the third down three, 35-38. Just like the start of the match, quarter four began with Aoki, Wheeler, Fredette and O’Neill. The pressure was on as the U.S. tried to deny Canada and claw their way back. A hard hit on Kory Puderbaugh midway through the fourth forced another turnover and allowed Canada to extend its lead to 45-41. There was not enough time on the clock for the U.S. to mount a comeback, and Team USA counted its first loss, 47-51, of the tournament.
Game 3: Chile vs USA
In game three, USA took on Chile, one of the newest wheelchair rugby nations in the Americas. This match provided another great opportunity to test out new lines, knock off the early season dust, and allow all 12 players to gain valuable experience. Josh Wheeler, Eric Newby, Chuck Melton and Josh O’Neill started the match. With hard, full court pressure, USA was able to create turnovers and 12-second violations for the Chileans that led to a 19-1 lead at the end of the first quarter. Co-captain Chuck Melton, who had a stand out performance on both sides of the court, was joined by Montrerius Hucherson, Sarah Adam and Liz Dunn to start the second quarter. All players from this line added points to the score board, including Dunn with her very first international try. The U.S. started the second half with a 32-3 advantage. Joe Jackson and Josh O’Neill joined Adam and Newby for quality minutes in the third while Lee Fredette, Chuck Melton, Eric Newby and Joe Jackson rounded out the fourth quarter and an emphatic 50-10 victory. Points were evenly distributed amongst the players with Kory Puderbaugh leading with way with 9, followed by Melton with 8 and Newby and Aoki with 6 each.
Game 2: Argentina vs USA
In the second match of the day, USA took on Argentina. Coach Delagrave started with a rather inexperienced line of Montrerius Hucherson, Liz Dunn, Kory Puderbaugh and Josh O’Neill who held their own on both sides of the court. After a line change, Sarah Adam entered the game and was an offensive force for the Americans as they finished the first quarter 14-7. A pair of forced turnovers to start the second quarter extended USA’s lead quickly, and they were able to maintain the lead to finish the half 32-14. The limited minutes of stalwart duo Aoki and Wheeler gave the other 10 squad members a great opportunity to show off their speed, passing and stifling defense in the second half, finishing the game with a 57-28 victory. Once again, Sarah Adam made a big impression as the leading scorer with 15 points followed by Kory Puderbaugh with 10. Scoring was spread out amongst the rest of the team with Hucherson, Melton and Newby each scoring 6 points and Symons and O’Neill scoring 5 a piece.
Game 1: USA vs Colombia
The first match started off close with Colombia winning the tip and scoring the first try. Co-Captain Chuck Aoki led the team through multiple line changes as USA found its groove against a solid Colombian squad. After some uncharacteristic turnovers, USA held a 27-23 lead at the end of the second quarter. The second half of the game saw USA continue to test multiple lines and pull away from Colombia with defensive stops, forced turnovers and balanced scoring across the squad. In the end, USA came away with a decisive 57-37 victory over host nation Colombia. Veteran Chuck Aoki and rookie Sarah Adam were top scorers with 12 and 11 tries each, followed by Kory Puderbaugh, Montrerius Hucherson and Eric Newby who each tallied 7 points.