TOKYO After 17 months with no competition, USA Wheelchair Rugby got back into action today, starting the Paralympic Games in winning fashion besting New Zealand 63-35. Top scorers for the U.S. were Chuck Aoki (Minneapolis, MN) with 14 and Josh Wheeler (Tucson, AZ) with 13.
The U.S. had a solid lead from the start, finishing the first period 13-6. The Americans extended their lead throughout the second going into the half up 29-17. The second half mirrored the first with the U.S. commanding the court again further extending their lead to 47-25 at the end of the third. A strong fourth rounded out the inaugural effort at these Games. Every Team USA athlete saw playing time today something Coach Gumbert says was a wonderful opportunity day one. “I was pleased, the young guys got a chance to step up, and compete in the first game. To see that and to see how they all showed up for each other, lifted each other up and challenged each other with love, it showed the culture of the team we have been building for so long.”
For co-captain Joe Delagrave getting the start today for the U.S. was a journey nine years in the making. “Getting the start today was huge for me,” said Delagrave. “Coach told us before warm ups and it meant so much to me and was symbolic of my last nine years and the focus I’ve had. Some of the guys came and gave me a hug, they knew too that this was such a special moment for me. Today in general was emotional, coming off of last night with Chuck as the flag bearer, we are all so proud and happy to be here.”
The U.S. hit the court again tomorrow, Thursday, August 26th against Canada, a game Coach Gumbert feels his team is ready for. “I think the boys are fired up for this rivalry game. After getting this initial game under our belts the guys should feel in sync and prepared. I expect us to come out and play a great match against a great team.”
Team USA is now 28-3 in Paralympic Competition having been on the podium in every Games since the introduction of the sport at Sydney 2000 with two golds (Sydney 2000 and Beijing 2008), two bronze (Athens 2004 and London 2012) and silver from Rio 2016.