As the roster goes from 37 to 16 potential players, Team USA coach reflects on where the team stands at this moment
Straight off its gold medal and Paralympic qualifying win in the Parapan American Games in Lima, Peru, Team USA is ready to keep a steady, winning pace at the top of the list of favorites to win the Tokyo 2020 Summer Paralympic Games (Tokyo 2020), though it remains the No. 2 seed internationally.
The team set its 16-member training camp roster on December 13, 2019, as it narrowed down from the initial 37-person team roster. The returning players on the 16-person roster include:
Chuck Aoki; Jeffrey Butler; Ernie Chung; Chad Cohn; Jake Daily; Joe Delagrave; Lee Fredette; Raymond Hennagir III; Chuck Melton; Eric Newby; Kory Puderbaugh; Adam Scaturro; and Joshua Wheeler.
Other players who were added to the training camp roster include: Liz Dunn, Montrerius Hucherson, and Joe Jackson.
It will eventually shrink down to the 12-person roster that will play Sept. 1-5 at Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo.
A military veteran, Hennagir III received high marks from coach James Gumbert and is also is on James Gumbert’s club team. If Hennagir III makes the team, this will be his first Paralympics experience (Hennagir III did make the Lima 2019 Parapan American Games squad).
“Ray is a Marine that was injured in theater and he comes over from basketball and brings a wealth of knowledge of court skill and court awareness and the thing that is so awesome about him is that he comes from basketball,” Gumbert says. “He isn’t necessarily a No. 1 guy; he is sort of a role player on the team and so he is very humble and very modest about his abilities and he has the potential to be a No. 1 guy on our team and we’re very excited about that.”
Additionally, Liz Dunn is one of Team USA’s first female recruits. She is a 29-year-old dietician.
“If you were to come up to her on the street, you would never in a million years think that she plays rugby. The thing that is exciting about her is that she is a 0.5 classification. In our world of classifications that is the lowest we have,” Gumbert says. “And because she is a female, there is a rule that we are able to remove half a point from the floor and possible add someone with extra point classification, giving us an advantage.”
One player who gives Team USA a distinct advantage is Chuck Aoki (3.0), who was beastly in the championship in Lima, almost taking down Canada himself with 18 tries on goal in 32 minutes of playing time. Gumbert called Aoki “a warrior”.
“If you watch enough sports, you’ll hear of athletes saying with a minute left that ‘I want the ball in my hands’,” Gumbert says. ”I want the ball in Chuck’s hands with a minute left in the game. If you were to go pound-for-pound with classification, because Chuck is not a 3.5, that’s the highest level. Chuck is a 3.0, which is the level below. I think Chuck plays with more heart and more passion and ability every time he goes out on the court.”
However, Aoki didn’t do it alone. He also had help from captain Joseph Delagrave (2.0) and Joshua Wheeler (2.5), who is, at times, a scoring machine himself.
“We have a great core of the Lima players,” Gumbert says. “The thing that we look at when we take the athletes are the fundamentals, you know… like playing smart. Not looking at someone and saying it’s easier to reach than play chair position. Those fundamentals are our backbone for us and when you look at the Lima team and look at our foundation, I would say great playing fundamentals and whether they were on the team or on the training team I would say that all of them possess the same good fundamentals.”
Team USA will hold training camp Jan. 22-26 at the United States Olympic Paralympic Committee Training Center in Colorado Springs and then head to the Quad Nations in Leicester City, England, as their first real road test since Lima 2020. Following that, it faces test matches in Tokyo March 12-15. The final round of training camps before the last cuts will be held in Birmingham, Ala. from April 14-19.
For more on the USA Wheelchair Rugby Team, please check usawr.org.