After a strong showing on Thursday, Team USA took their first loss of the 2012 Canada Cup earlier this morning. In the first day of the tournament, the Americans defeated both France and Great Britain, but they were met by some tenacious defensive play, especially in the second half against Japan on Friday, losing 56-55.
I talked with Team USA head coach James Gumbert earlier today, and asked about what adjustments his team is making for tonight and tomorrow in order to rebound. While crediting Japan as a tough opponent, Coach Gumbert said that Team USA needed to play as a group, rather than as individuals.
“I think the biggest thing for us [going forward] is getting back on the same page. A lot of times you’ll try to do too much as one athlete, and we’re not a one-person team,” he said.
One difficulty the Americans face in this particular tournament is a shortage of players. Team USA is without two athletes for the 2012 Canada Cup, which means that two of their three alternates are playing in British Columbia this weekend.
Josh Wheeler, from Provo, Utah, serves as one of the alternates. He saw significant court-time in this morning’s game and looked to be playing well. Still, Coach Gumbert saw a bright side to having fewer regular starting players available.
“We’re missing two athletes. There is some adjustment, but we’re a good enough team. To be able to play with developing lines, and to see [alternates] play to the same level [as starters] is encouraging,” Gumbert said.
The Canada Cup is the last tournament-style test for Team USA before they head to London later this summer. Perhaps this will prove to be a good warm-up for the Paralympics, as every team they are playing against now will also be a potential matchup in London.
I asked Coach Gumbert about how the Canada Cup is different in 2012 from previous tournaments for Team USA, given that this is also a Paralympic year. He thinks these three days will help his team come September.
“In 2008, we didn’t come to the Canada Cup,” he said. “It’s a unique opportunity for us, to see the competition we’re playing against. An opportunity, a ‘gift,’ if you will.”
Team USA has played all three teams they will meet in their pool at the Paralympics this weekend: France, Great Britain and Japan. Their next opponent will be Australia, whose roster boasts arguably the best wheelchair rugby player in the world, Ryley Batt. At 23 years old, Batt plays at a 3.5 classification, which is the highest mark possible.
The game between Team USA and Australia is set for 7pm tonight and can be viewed online at sportscanada.tv.