U.S. Women Move Through Goalball Pool Play, To Meet Reigning World Champs RPC In Quarters
by Karen Price
Team USA celebrates during a goalball preliminary group match against Turkey during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 30, 2021 in Tokyo.
The last time the U.S. women’s goalball team faced Turkey at the Paralympic Games, the result was a loss in the 2016 semifinals and the end of Team USA’s gold-medal hopes.
Following a victory over Turkey on Monday, the U.S. hopes are still very much alive in Tokyo.
The Americans closed out the first part of the 2020 Paralympic tournament on Monday with a come-from-behind 4-3 victory over the reigning Paralympic champs. Team USA now heads into a quarterfinal matchup against the Russian Paralympic Committee with a 3-1 record coming out of preliminary round play. The U.S. finished second in Group D, behind Turkey by goal differential.
“It means a lot to us,” Team USA’s Eliana Mason said of defeating Turkey. “We didn’t play very well against them in 2016 or 2018 (at the world championships), so to come back and have a really tight, close game just helps us see all our hard work and growth coming onto the court.”
Goalball is a team sport for visually impaired athletes. Stationed on opposite sides of the court, teams attempt to send the ball into a goal that extends across the end line on the opponent’s side of the court. The ball has a bell inside, and due to varying levels of blindness players all wear eyeshades.
The U.S., which won a bronze medal five years ago in Rio, opened the Tokyo Games last Wednesday against Brazil in a rematch of the bronze-medal game at the 2016 Paralympics. Five of the six members on the U.S. squad were also on that team, and they kicked off the Tokyo campaign with a 6-4 victory.
“It’s to our advantage to have a good, challenging team right off the bat to really push us and help focus us,” six-time Paralympian Asya Miller said. “We’ve been waiting five years to get this party started, so that was a great way to do that. It’s kind of a relief to get that first game in and have a ‘W.’”
Amanda Dennis celebrates during a goalball preliminary group match against Turkey during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020 on Aug. 30, 2021 in Tokyo.
Taking advantage of their penalty shot opportunities while playing disciplined themselves paid off, and Amanda Dennis’ third goal of the game kept Brazil at bay after closing to 5-4.
Egypt was next on Friday, and the U.S. opened up a 9-0 lead at halftime before finishing the 10-0 rout. Dennis scored four of the first five goals, Lisa Czechowski, Mason and Miller each scored two. Rookie Mindy Cook made her Paralympic debut in the game.
But it wasn’t all smooth sailing through the preliminary matches. Defensive stalwarts Japan did what they do best to defeat the U.S. 3-2 on Saturday, despite an opening goal from Dennis seven minutes into the game. Japan quickly tied, went ahead on a penalty throw and led the rest of the way. Marybai Huking made her first start of the tournament for the U.S.
That left only Turkey, which took an early lead and built it to 2-0 on goals by Sevda Altunoluk before Mason cut it to one on a penalty. Altunoluk scored again, and again the U.S. would cut the lead to one on a goal by Miller, but the Americans still trailed at the half. That was no longer the case moments into the second half. Dennis scored early to tie it, and the two teams would play through most of the half deadlocked. Finally with 2:15 remaining Dennis notched the go-ahead goal and the U.S. sealed the victory.
Team USA’s push for the top of the podium begins against reigning world champion RPC on Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. EDT. The U.S. women are seeking their first Paralympic gold medal since 2008 in Beijing.
“We’re fearless,” Dennis said. “This is the word I chose for the week going into this last week. There’s only one way to go and that’s up. We’re excited, we’re going to stay aggressive and we’re going to play really good defense.”
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo-2020-Paralympic-Games to view the medal table and results.