German Wheelchair Rugby Invasion

The International Wheelchair Rugby Federation’s No. 11-ranked team in the world will be hoping to move up the ranks and win a championship trophy in Phoenix.

One of the world’s top-ranked wheelchair rugby teams made a nearly 6,000-mile trek to Arizona with hopes of winning a championship title.

Starting today, the 11th-ranked German national wheelchair rugby team will face off against 10 other squads from all over the world in the 2020 Rugby Rave at Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center in Phoenix — and they flew nearly 6,000 miles for a chance to take home a championship.

The team’s adventure started in Hanover, Germany, on Monday, when they flew to London, then took a 12-hour direct flight to arrive in Phoenix Tuesday morning.

Fortunately for the Germans, the group isn’t feeling any jet lag, according to team captain Marco Herbst (3.5 classification), and head coach Christoph Werner.

German Wheelchair Rugby National Team Head Coach Christoph Werner PHOTO BY: Josh Eisenberg

Advance preparation and avoiding travel fatigue are reasons the team arrived in advance, according to Werner, whose team is ranked 11th in the world, according to the International Wheelchair Rugby Federation.

“We came early to have a few training sessions and take care of what little jet lag that we have,” he says. “All the guys from the team feel well, and we are ready for the tournament.”

Some of the opposition the Germans will face include: NorCal Quakes (California); RISE (Texas); High Fives (Nevada); Portland (Oregon); London Annihilators (Canada); the University of Arizona; Texas Stampede; 360 Heat 1 (Phoenix); 360 Heat 2 (Phoenix); and the Maple Leafs (Canada). Germany’s first match is against the University of Arizona at 10:30 a.m.

“From what we saw on the schedule, there are three top teams from the U.S. It will be real high quality in the U.S. because the play here is much stronger and physical than it is in Europe,” Werner says. “It will be a hard tournament for us, but we are here to come forward, and that is the best way to play against strong, hard teams.”

The highest rank Germany has ever had in international play came after the 2008 Beijing Summer Paralympics, when it was ranked sixth. The drop in the rankings falls upon a transition between losing older players and acquiring younger, less experienced athletes. This is one of the primary reasons that Germany finds itself not yet qualified for the Tokyo 2020 Summer Paralympic Games.

Admitting the odds are slimmer than he would like, Werner still likes his chances of making it into Tokyo 2020, as he looks forward to Rugby Rave and the next few tournaments and European qualifiers.

“In my opinion, we have a really good chance to play,” Werner says. “I think we have about a 30% chance now of getting a spot for Tokyo.”

The Germans chose to come to the Rugby Rave because the tournament is a good place for the team to gauge some of the competition and work on organization of its lines, Werner says.

“We are trying to play new lineups so that there are more opportunities for our teams, so we are looking for young players to step up,” Werner says. “It’s really important that we have 12 players playing on a high level.”

One positive aspect for the German team, during the 2020 Rugby Rave and most international play, is the language barrier that presents itself. Werner believes speaking their native tongue gives the team an upper hand when calling plays.

Players warming up on the German team at 2020 Rugby Rave PHOTO BY: Josh Eisenberg

“I think it’s better for us to speak in German because no one else will be able to understand us,” Werner says. “This is what we try to do during our training sessions, because before we were using a lot of English words in our training session and on the court. Now that we speak German, no one will understand what we do or our play or our philosophy on the court.”

Whether it’s spoken in German or in English, one thing is for sure about the German team: According to Herbst, their philosophy is simply “win.”

The 2020 Rugby Rave is at Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center in Phoenix this weekend. For more information and a tournament schedule, visit ability360.org/rugbyrave.

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