The Asia Oceania Championships are currently underway in Beijing, China. I caught up with three Aussies who are representing their country at the tournament to get their thoughts on the competition.
First up is the youngest player on the Australian women’s team, Annabelle Lindsay. She has only been playing wheelchair basketball for 18 months and has been involved with the national team for a year. She is one of Australia’s fastest-rising prospects.
At the age of 17, she suffered an injury that ended her able-bodied basketball career. Soon after the injury, one of her friends suggested that she should try out wheelchair basketball with the local team in Canberra. At the training session, she was told that she would be eligible for classification as a 4.5 due to grade 4 cartilage damage in her right knee. She said: “I decided that I was going to focus all my effort on getting to the elite level and to be able to represent Australia in wheelchair basketball.”
The 19-year-old stated that she found the transition from able-bodied to wheelchair basketball difficult at first. Although she is not as physically impaired as other players, she found the chair skills hard to manage as she wasn’t used to pushing a wheelchair. She expanded on the transition by saying: “Wheelchair basketball has a different strategy to it compared to the able-bodied game. Although myself and my teammates are surprised with how quickly I’ve picked up some of the skills. The squad has been nothing but supportive of me.”
In preparation for the Asia Oceania Championships, the Australian women’s team have had centralised camps as well as mini-camps where coaches will fly out to individual states and work with a small group of players. Annabelle has constantly been playing with and against teammates in the women’s National League during the season. Lindsay regularly travels to New South Wales which is a 3-hour drive to participate in centralised and mini-camps.
The women’s team has a mixture of experience, half the team has got Paralympic experience under their belt. The rest of the team except for Annabelle have been to at least one major U25 or senior tournament. The Asia Oceania Championships will mark Annabelle’s debut at a major tournament. “Australia believes that we can win the tournament, so that’s what we are going to come out and do.”
Australia’s hopes and ambitions according to Annabelle is to “get in the grand final and make sure we qualify for the World Championships in Germany next year.”
The Sydney University Flames player believes the Australian women’s National League “is always getting stronger, especially with the addition of American and Japanese international players which will increase the standard of competition in the league.”
The Canberra resident expressed China and Japan as Australia’s main threats in the tournament. They play Japan a few times a year so they are well prepared for the opposition, however, they haven’t played China since the previous World Championships when they failed to qualify for Rio.
Annabelle expanded on this further by saying: “We don’t really know what to expect from China since we haven’t seen them since we lost to them. We are going to approach every game with the same mentality and play the best of our ability. I believe if we follow that mentality, we can come out as champions, but if we beat China it will be significant for the team and avenge the loss.”
Cobi Crispin is the one to watch on the squad according to Annabelle as she was MVP of the Australian women’s National League in 2016/17 as well as receiving All-Star 5 honours when Great Britain hosted the Continental Clash in Worcester over the summer.
Annabelle is no stranger when it comes to representing at a high level. In able-bodied basketball, she represented her state, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) at semi-professional level.
Her greatest achievement in wheelchair basketball is being selected for the national team, being able to put on the green and gold vest and represent Australia. “Every athlete’s goal is to represent their country and I’m so thankful that I’m able to do that.”
Annabelle will soon start university at the University of Texas-Arlington (UTA), playing the NWBA women’s collegiate league.
The next two articles are sampled from the IWBF website: www.iwbf.org Thank you to Stephanie Gagne for letting me feature them on RAW Coaching.
In 1992, at the age of 18, Ness lost his leg in a boating accident and within a year, he started to play wheelchair basketball.
He was persuaded to try out the sport when he bumped into Australian Paralympic legend Bill Mather-Brown whilst he was swimming, and he remembers that first experience, “As soon as I sat in a wheelchair and had a go I loved every second of it. This is what I’d been missing since I had my accident. I knew the sport was for me. It gave me the motivation to represent my country.”
Ness, who was appointed assistant/player-coach to the Australian Rollers team in February 2017, has been part of the Australian team for 20 years, but will not be competing as a player at the Asia Oceania Championships due to an injury. He will instead be there in the sole role of assistant coach alongside newly appointed head coach Craig Friday.
The 4.5 classified player, explained how things have changed under the new leadership, “The new head coach Craig Friday has turned the programme around, by installing new direction into the team. We want to make sure we are always moving forward, becoming fitter, faster, stronger.”
In preparation for the championships, the squad have been centralised at the Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra, having four training sessions a day. They also go in with buoyed confidence after winning the recent Mitsubishi Challenge Cup beating the likes of Great Britain, Turkey, and Japan. Ness said, “It was a big step forward for the team.”
There is a lot of experience in the Australian team with the likes of four-time Paralympians Shaun Norris and Tristan Knowles leading the squad. Ness believes they also have plenty of up and coming talent, such as 20-year-old Tom O’Neill-Thorne. He said, “Tom is one of the most exciting young wheelchair basketball players in the world. He is one to watch for the future of the sport.”
The Australia Rollers have never lost at the championships, so their goal is to maintain their winning streak, keeping up the prestige of their team and the tournament itself.
The Perth native said, “Competing in the Asia Oceania Championships is special to us because it’s our zone. It may not be as competitive as the European Championships, but if we don’t play to our best ability; we’ll be in for a dogfight.”
He continued, “Japan is probably our biggest threat. In the Mitsubishi Challenge Cup, Japan were up by 20 points but we managed to pull it back and win by two in the final minutes. They have changed how they’re doing things. They’ve got the capacity to push hard. They can run fast line-ups which will put us under a lot of pressure.”
Ness tasted gold medal success at the 2008 Paralympic Games in Beijing, the same city where the 2017 Asia Oceania Championships are taking place…will Beijing prove to be his lucky city?
LEANNE DEL TOSO
Del Toso has had hereditary, sensory and motor neuropathy since the age of 19. In 2006, she was working at a gym and saw an Australian Paralympic committee flyer on the wall that said: “Are you the next Paralympian?” She called the number on the flyer and went to a Paralympic talent search day. The event organisers suggested that she would be best suited for wheelchair basketball due to her experience playing able-bodied basketball before acquiring her disability.
In her words, wheelchair basketball “changed my world.”
The 3.5 classified player is a proud native of Melbourne, Victoria and has always played for a Victorian team in the Women’s National League, starting off with Knox Raiders, then the Dandenong Rangers, and currently the Kilsyth Cobras.
Leanne is a veteran of the Australian team as she has been involved with the programme for 10 years. She made her international debut in 2009 at the Osaka Cup in Japan and has represented the Australian women’s team at every major tournament since then.
The 37-year-old talked about how the team has been preparing for the upcoming Championships saying: “We’re changing our outlook as we want to run different and new line-ups. People have worked on their overall individual game and we have bonded more as a team as half the squad is still relatively new to the programme.”
Due to the size of Australia, the logistics of getting the whole squad together can be difficult, however, Leanne explained, “The team has been training as a whole more frequently over the last few months, it’s been our focus to come together as a team to scrimmage and get essential game time.”
“It is beneficial for the team as it gives us as much game experience as possible in the lead up to the championships.”
Del Toso and her fellow teammates were heartbroken after not qualifying for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, however, that is what has been motivating them going into the Championships.
She said, “Our hope is to come home from Beijing as Asia Oceania Champions.
“The team is heading into the competition with a lot of confidence and we hope the team will dominate the competition and leave the tournament with the same confidence, looking forward to the World Championships.”
She continued by saying “It means everything for Australia to compete in the Asia Oceania Championships, to be the best in our zone is something that we are all very proud of. We have always been competitive, strong and successful meaning we have made a name for ourselves. However, we don’t take this for granted as we always want to build on our successes.”
In the Australian team, there is a mix of experience and youth, Del Toso revealed that Annabelle Lindsay, Amber Merritt, Cobi Crispin and Georgia Munro-Cook will be the ones to watch for in the future of the women’s national team.
Listing her greatest achievement in wheelchair basketball as being fortunate enough to be part of the Australian team that won a silver medal at London 2012, Leanne explained how much playing for her country means to her, “I don’t take my position for granted. Every time I put on the green and gold vest for Australia I always appreciate the time I spend representing my country.”
Written by Dylan Cummings