LONDON – With two strong wins already under their belt versus Great Britain and Japan, the U.S. Paralympic Wheelchair Rugby Team took another step forward Friday evening in their quest to defend their gold medal from the Beijing 2008 Paralympic Games. The team moves to a 3-0 record with a masterful 70-44 win over France.
The American starting line-up featured all first-time Paralympians, though the squad is rich in experience. Rookies Joe Delagrave (Chandler, Ariz.), Chad Cohn (Tucson, Ariz.), Chuck Aoki (Minneapolis, Minn.) and Derrick Helton (Tucson, Ariz.) jumped out to a quick 5-1 lead. While the French scored steadily, the gap opened to 12-5 with 4:17 in the first.
Illustrating the depth of this team, U.S. coach James Gumbert made a complete line change at 3:53 in the first bringing in Nick Springer (Phoenix, Ariz.), captain Will Groulx (Clarksville, Tenn.), Seth McBride (Juneau, Alaska) and Andy Cohn (San Diego, Calif.).
“People ask us all the time who our dominant player is,” said Coach Gumbert. “We don’t have a dominant player, we have 12 dominant players.”
With a score of 21-9, the first period ended with the French looking for a way to halt the progress of the tough American squad.
An energetic fan base ushered in the second period as the U.S. continued to force multiple turnovers with a balanced offensive and defensive strategy. At 1:49 left in the second, the French came within 11 after Helton’s trip to the penalty box. But the French could not close the wide margin any further as the first half of play came to a close. The U.S. confidently left the floor with a comfortable 34-21 lead.
Aoki once again led the scoring in the first half with 10.
The beginning of the third period was once again dominated by the Americans, who were up by 16 at 5:37 and continued to dictate the tempo of the game throughout the period. Outscoring the French 21-12 in the third, the score at the end of the period was 55-33.
Much of the same marked the fourth period of play as the French continued to struggle with the ever-widening score. With every American player contributing to this win, the 70-44 final score is the widest margin of victory thus far at these Games for Team USA. Top scorers for Team USA were Chance Sumner (Colorado Springs, Colo.) with 11, and Aoki and Groulx contributing 10 each.
Tonight’s win advances the U.S. to the semi-finals where they will face rival Canada who advanced after narrowly beating Sweden 53-52 earlier on Friday. When asked if the U.S. is ready for their storied opponent, Coach Gumbert simply replied “This is not a game that will require a pep talk.”
Semi-finals for wheelchair rugby will take place on Saturday with the medal rounds on Sunday afternoon in London.