The Australian men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams were officially unveiled in Perth today, with selectors opting for one of the most experienced contingents Australia has ever fielded in the sport at a Paralympic Games.
The Australian Paralympic Committee (APC) announced the 12-strong squads for both the Rollers (men) and Gliders (women), with just two men and three women set to make their Paralympic debut.
Australia has won six medals in wheelchair basketball at the Paralympic Games – two gold, three silver and one bronze – since it was introduced to the Games in Rome 1960. Of the six medals, the Rollers have won two gold and a silver, while the Gliders have won two silvers and a bronze.
Australian Paralympic Committee CEO and 2012 Chef de Mission Jason Hellwig believes the medal tally will continue to grow in London.
“Australia has a proud history in wheelchair basketball, having competed in the sport since the first Paralympic Games in 1960. More recently, it is a sport that has brought Australia a lot of success and we are hopeful that these two teams can enhance that record further in London,” Mr Hellwig said.
“It is wonderful for every Roller and Glider heading to the 2012 Games to know that they are part of a sport with such a rich Paralympic history of which Australia plays a significant role.”
Currently ranked number one in the world after winning the Paralympic gold medal in Beijing 2008 and the 2010 World Championships, the Rollers are hoping to retain their Paralympic title with back-to-back gold medals.
Western Australia’s Brad Ness will again captain the side during what will be his fourth consecutive Paralympics, while Bill Latham (QLD) and Jannik Blair (VIC) will feature at their first Games. It will be a tough assignment for the Rollers who will face the USA, South Africa, Turkey, Spain and Italy in the pool.
“We’re ready. The last four years we’ve been preparing ourselves for this moment and when you look at the work we’ve done – every player has had game time, gym time, on-court time – we’re just ready to get in there and do battle,” Australian Rollers Head Coach, Ben Ettridge said.
“We’ve drawn the USA and they’ll be a tough one, as will Italy and Turkey who have proven their performance on the world stage recently. They could give us a good shake while we believe Spain could cause a few upsets and could be quite dangerous.”
The Gliders are looking for their first ever Paralympic gold medal, having won two silvers and a bronze from the last three Games.
The team won bronze in Beijing after losing to eventual gold medallists, the USA in the semi-final and finished fourth at the 2010 World Championships, before stepping up their ball play to take the crown at the 2011 Asia Oceania Championships and securing their place in London.
With 15 Paralympic Games between them, captain Bridie Kean (QLD) will join seasoned campaigners Amanda Carter (VIC), Sarah Stewart (NSW), Tina McKenzie (NSW), Kylie Gauci (NSW), Katie Hill (NSW), Cobi Crispin (QLD), Clare Nott (WA) and Shelley Chaplin (VIC) as well as Western Australian debutantes Amber Merritt and Sarah Vinci and Victorian Leanne Del Toso.
Kean, who made her Paralympic debut in Beijing, will captain her first Paralympic side in London when the Gliders take on Brazil, Great Britain, Canada and the Netherlands in the pool round.
“Canada beat us at the World Championships in the bronze medal game and although we’ve since gotten back on top of them, they will be a tough side to beat, as will the Netherlands, who historically have beaten us by just a few points on a few occasions,” Australian Gliders Head Coach, John Triscari said.
“We’ve worked really hard to improve the team’s shooting percentage, we’ve had strength and conditioning coaches working with the girls to up their fitness and we’ve increased the volume of shooting during training. Hopefully all the hard work the girls are putting in now, will pay off in London.”
The London 2012 Paralympic Games will take place from 29 August – 9 September with the wheelchair basketball medal finals held 7 September (women) and 8 September (men).
2012 Australian Wheelchair Basketball Teams
Brad Ness (C) – Mandurah, WA
Justin Eveson – Victoria Park, WA
Bill Latham – Lower Bucca, QLD
Tristan Knowles – Fairlight, NSW
Brett Stibners – Oak Flats, NSW
Shaun Norris – Alexander Heights, WA
Grant Mizens – East Ryde, NSW
Nick Taylor – Towradgi, NSW
Tige Simmons – Fairfield, QLD
Jannik Blair – Horsham, VIC
Dylan Alcott – Highett, VIC
Michael Hartnett – Gosnells, WA
Amber Merritt – Wanneroo, WA
Leanne Del Toso – Watsonia, VIC
Bridie Kean (C) – Alexandra Headlands, QLD
Cobi Crispin – Ashburton, VIC
Shelley Chaplin – Ashburton, VIC
Sarah Stewart – Maroubra, NSW
Tina McKenzie – St Peters, NSW
Katie Hill – Panania, NSW
Kylie Gauci – Rooty Hill, NSW
Sarah Vinci – Spearwood, WA
Clare Nott (nee Burzynski)- Lansdale, WA
Amanda Carter – Heidelberg West, VIC