Feb 13, 2017
U.S. Goalball Teams Refreshed and Focused on Tokyo
By: Courtney Patterson, USABA Staff
Players on the U.S. Men’s and Women’s Goalball Teams took some well-earned time off after winning silver and bronze, respectively, at the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. But in January, teams were back on the court with their next big goal in mind - Tokyo.
To say Rio was a success for both teams is an understatement. The U.S. was the only country to have both Men’s and Women’s teams on the podium in Rio and it was the first time in 28 years that the U.S. Men’s team made it to the Paralympic championship match. The U.S. Women defeated host country, Brazil in the bronze medal game for a well-earned 3rd place finish after falling to China in the quarter-finals at the London 2012 Paralympic Games and finishing 7th.
U.S. Women’s National Team
Following their redeeming finish in Rio, the U.S. Women’s team is entering a new era after long-time head coach, Ken Armbruster, retired in October. In his 20 years of serving as the U.S. Women’s National Team Head Coach, Armbruster accumulated more wins than any other coach in U.S. Association Blind Athletes history. Filling those large shoes is Assistant Coach Jake Czechowski, who was promoted to Head Coach in the weeks following Armbruster’s retirement.
“My immediate goal is to maintain the level of excellence and tradition that past and current members of USA Women’s Goalball have worked so hard to sustain for over 30 years,” said Czechowski shortly after taking on the new role. Though filling Armbruster’s shoes will be difficult, Czechowski is inheriting some Paralympic talent that will set him up for success.
Amanda Dennis (Peachtree City, Ga.), who was named “One to Watch” by the International Paralympic Committee, is among that Paralympic talent. Dennis is a two-time Paralympian and now a medalist following the team’s success in Rio. Though reflecting on her success has been key to growing as an athlete, she’s already focused on her next goal.
“Gold in Tokyo,” Amanda answered immediately when talking about her aspirations. “But this year, I want to get stronger and work on my offense, scoring more goals for the team.”
Six athletes, including Dennis, traveled to Fort Wayne, Indiana for the first U.S. Women’s National Goalball Team Training Camp in January. Among them, emerging athlete Ali Lawson (Jasper, Ga.).
“The January training camp was very productive,” said Lawson. “It was definitely a great way to kick off the season. It’s always awesome to work with some of the best female goalball players out there.”
Lawson shares Dennis’ excitement for what is to come over the next four years. “The road to Tokyo has already begun for me,” said Lawson. “My ultimate goal is to be there representing Team USA. I am looking forward to the future of USA Goalball.”
U.S. Men’s National Team
After reminding the world they are a top contender in the sport, the U.S. Men’s National Team is focused on improving individually and as a team as they shift their focus from South America to Asia.
“We revamped our playing style in 2012, and the four years leading up to Rio were spent trying to iron out what we needed to do to be a winning team,” said Assistant Coach Matthew Boyle. “We accomplished the goal of finding a winning style, now the four years leading into Tokyo will be spent perfecting it.”
“Winning a silver medal in Rio was a huge success for our team,” said Boyle, “especially after not qualifying for the London Games. Winning a silver medal puts you in a great position, it gives you the confidence in knowing you are one of the best teams in the world and at the same time, it keeps you hungry knowing there is still more to achieve.”
Part of what helped the U.S. Men’s National Team succeed in Rio was the newly established Goalball Center of Excellence at the Plassman Athletic Center at Turnstone in Fort Wayne, Indiana. In October 2015, six male goalball players and a resident coach relocated to Fort Wayne to live and train full-time in preparation for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games. Their sacrifice paid off when they stepped onto the medal stand in Rio last September, nearly a year later.
“The Goalball Resident Program is the best thing that has ever happened for the U.S. Men’s Goalball Team,” said Daryl Walker, Rio 2016 Paralympian and current resident athlete at the Goalball Center of Excellence. “Without the Resident Program, I could not be the goalball player I want and need to be. The resident program has helped me and others discover the potential within us.”
U.S. Men held their first training camp of 2017 in Fort Wayne the first weekend in February. Like the women’s team, players included emerging talent and veterans from the Rio 2016 Paralympic team.
“Tyler Merren retired after Rio,” said John Potts, U.S. Goalball’s High Performance Director. “But both coaches and the remaining five men are ready to take the trip to Tokyo. The returning team will be challenged by several young and talented prospects along with a couple of returning Paralympians who are going to challenge everyone for the chance to make the 2020 Paralympic team.”
“Both teams are stronger and more motivated for success than ever,” said Potts. “If folks like what they saw in Rio, they’ll want to follow us as we work our way to Tokyo over the next four years!”
Feb 02, 2017
USABA Seeks Members of New Goalball Broadcast Team
Have you ever hoped that goalball would become a broadcast sport and that you could become goalball broadcast commentator? Your wait may soon be over! USABA is in the process of procuring equipment and software that will enable video and audio broadcast of our domestic goalball tournaments. But we need you! We’re looking for candidates to be part of our first broadcast team.
We’re in search of volunteers who understand the sport and have the ability to provide clear and descriptive commentary of goalball matches while representing USABA with professionalism and enthusiasm. No travel or special equipment will be involved, although commentators will need to have reliable access to a computer and a strong internet connection.
Our goal is to launch broadcasting at the Midwest Regional Tournament held in Warren, MI and then each regional tournament and adult national championships.
Feb 02, 2017
Triathletes Get Elite-Level Training at No Sight No Limits Camp
By: Courtney Patterson, USABA Staff
The inaugural No Sight No Limits USA Blind Triathlete High Performance Camp took place January 21-25 at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center in California. Led by former Team USA Paratriathlete, Amy Dixon (Greenwich, Conn.), the camp offered athletes the opportunity to reach a new level of training by providing hands-on instruction and information sessions on nutrition, recovery and mental strategies specific to athletes with visual impairments and hearing loss.
“I was inspired to start this camp after meeting so many blind athletes from around the world racing towards the Paralympic Games this past season,” said Dixon.
Fifteen athletes ranging in age from 22 to 64 years old, from across the country, attended No Sight No Limits. David Kuhn (Dekalb, Ill.), who competed in the 2016 USABA Marathon National Championships in December, attended the camp to push his limits.
“Amy’s camp taught us advanced skills,” said Kuhn. “This was not a camp for beginners.”
Unable to pinpoint his biggest takeaway, Kuhn listed one takeaway from each discipline. In the pool, Kuhn described learning to draft off of someone. “It was interesting how I was able to feel the churning of the water behind my guide’s feet. Then, how easy it was for me to tell when the water was not churning, indicating that I had drifted too far behind him and was no longer drafting.”
On the bike, Kuhn and his pilot, Rick van Tuyl (San Clemente, Calif.), practiced close, tight turns at slow speeds. “The pilots had to maintain control at very slow speeds while we, the stokers, had to remain focused and perfectly balanced. We ended up in the mud on the side of the road a couple of times,” Kuhn joked.
The technical takeaway Kuhn might have been most excited about was in running. “I now have drills to improve my running pace. When executed properly, the drills work very quickly in improving running form and pace. Repeated use of these drills will help me build a faster pace and develop endurance at that pace.”
In addition to the hands-on training and instruction participants received from USA Triathlon-certified coaches, the group was coached on things they can do mentally to enhance their training. The session Kuhn found most impactful was Dixon’s talk on working with guides.
“Amy shared with us her experiences with guides and how it’s imperative that you hold each other accountable,” said Kuhn. “Sometimes you have to crack the whip and get your guide focused, sometimes they need to get your focused. [Amy] did a really great job of describing the guide/athlete relationship and how it must be a team mentality.”
Alison Lynch (New York, N.Y.), who ran as part of a relay team with USABA at the California International Marathon in December, chose to attend No Sight No Limits to become more confident in open-water swims and to work on her transitions.
“I’m not a strong swimmer,” said Lynch, “especially outside in bright light when I lose what usable vision I have.”
Having learned to swim just seven months before the camp, pool drills were the biggest challenge she overcame at No Sight No Limits. “After three days of swimming in what would be my least favorite conditions, I felt much more confident in how I need to keep training to prepare for that kind of condition in a race.”
The transition clinics also helped Lynch’s confidence. “I’m testing out new gear so I need to feel comfortable getting it on and off as fast as possible!”
Off the course, participants benefited from classroom sessions on nutrition, recovery and mental strategies. Lynch cited the nutrition session as particularly impactful. “Fueling your body is so critical, and feeling well will only improve your race.”
The icing on the cake for No Sight No Limits participants was the networking that happened and the bonds that were formed over four days of intense training.
“What has become very important to me is repeated encounters with my blind and visually impaired athletic friends and our guides,” said Kuhn. “To see old friends and make new ones is another big takeaway, whose importance cannot be overrated.”
“The networking with other athletes, guides and coaches was invaluable,” said Lynch. “Even though we each have our own challenges, both visually and based on our own strengths, it’s incredibly beneficial to bound ideas off everyone, to get feedback and to compare strategies.”
Pictured: Group photo of camp participants on the track at Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center.
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