U.S. Wheelchair Rugby Completes Quarterfinal Comeback At World Championships
by Ethan Olson
(L-R) Kory Puderbaugh and Chuck Aoki celebrate after winning the semifinals against Team Canada at the 2022 WWR World Championships on Oct. 14, 2022 in Vejle, Denmark.
The U.S. wheelchair rugby team continued its strong run from group play into the quarterfinals of the 2022 Wheelchair Rugby World Championship in Vejle, Denmark, defeating Canada 53-51 in a comeback victory Friday to continue its streak of never missing the semifinals at the event.
The U.S., looking for its first world title since 2010, scored the first try of the match before Canada took advantage of successive turnovers to build a three-try lead that it held for the first quarter.
For the rest of the match, the U.S. continued a tight, defensive approach led by defensive specialist Lee Fredette in an attempt to slow Canada.
Led by the experience of Chuck Aoki, a three-time Paralympic medalist, and Josh Wheeler, a two-time medalist, the U.S. used a shorter bench than normal. This strategy by head coach Joe Delagrave proved to be effective as the Americans held strong defensively in the fourth quarter to keep their small lead.
The defensive stand, highlighted by key forced turnovers, was enough for the U.S. to hold on for the victory. Aoki was the top scorer for the U.S. with 21 tries, followed by Wheeler with 14. Josh O’Neill, a newcomer to the U.S. wheelchair rugby team, was named Player of the Match after scoring nine.
Although the Americans haven’t won gold in a world championship since 2010, they have medaled in every tournament since the first one was held in 1995. The U.S. also won a silver medal in last summer’s Paralympic Games Tokyo 2020, led by Wheeler and Aoki.
The U.S. now advances to the world championship semifinals, where it will try to keep the medal streak alive. The Americans will face off against Japan on Saturday, who easily defeated New Zealand in their quarterfinal matchup. The tournament wrap ups with the medal round on Sunday.