TOKYO, Japan (WANE) – In Thursday’s semifinal match against Brazil, USA women’s goalball team rallied from behind in the most dramatic fashion yet…pulling out the win on the sixth and final round of extra throws.
After defeating Brazil by a 6-4 margin on the opening day of competition back on Saturday, the U.S. offense was stymied on Thursday by the Brazilians for the first 21 minutes of the 24-minute game until Amanda Dennis (Peachtree City, Ga.) finally put a ball in the back of the net with 2:28 left on the clock to pull the U.S. within a goal at 2-1, said Turnstone, one of 11 Paralympic training sites in the United States.
With under 20 seconds remaining and possession of the ball, U.S. Head Coach Jake Czechowski called timeout to strategize possibly the final throw the Americans would have, and he put the ball in the hands of the team’s leading scorer Dennis.
Turnstone said Dennis has been thriving in pressure situations all tournament and drilled a throw down the line past the Brazilian defense with 15.4 ticks on the clock to send the game into sudden-death overtime.
“Every once in a while, you get lucky enough to have an athlete who not only has the heart, the determination and the fight of a true champion but she’s also got the athletic skill to back that up,” Czechowski said. “Amanda’s just one of those rare athletes. She’s never going to give up. She’s never gonna say die, and she’s able to do exactly what she needs to when she needs to do it. We called a shot out of that play and she was able to execute it. As soon as she let it go, she knew it was going to hit the back of the net.”
Dennis gave credit to the preparation the team has done for pressure-filled moments at the United States Olympic & Paralympic Training Site at the Turnstone Center.
“One thing that we practice a lot in Fort Wayne is these situations where we are down and we have to come back,” Dennis said. “We kind of have the advantage that we’re able to train at Turnstone and we have so much support from USABA (United States Association of Blind Athletes) to be able to have the opportunity to work together and to have a lot of team camaraderie. Though we were viewed as the underdogs, we’re in that gold medal game tomorrow and that is just amazing. It just shows all of the hard work and all the resources and support we’ve gotten in the last five years to get where we are today.”
In the two three-minute overtime periods after Dennis’ tying goal, both defenses were flawless although the U.S. came close to ending the match on two occasions. Dennis banged a shot off the post in the first overtime and Eliana Mason (Beaverton, Ore.) had her shot deflect off the crossbar in the second extra period.
With no winner decided, the game went to extra throws with each team submitting a lineup sheet listing the order the six players on the roster would throw and defend.
After Lisa Czechowski (Boonton, N.J.) and Brazil’s Ana Duarte traded goals in the first round, Dennis came through again with a block of Jessica Gomes and a goal in the second round to put the U.S. up 4-3. Turnstone said Brazil tied it at 4-4 in the third round when Marybai Huking (Salt Lake City, Utah) was called for a high ball and Brazil’s Moniza Aparecida converted her chance.
The fourth round saw Asya Miller (Portland, Ore.) and Brazil’s Victoria Amorim both come up with huge saves to keep the score tied. With the first throw of the fifth round, Turnstone said Mason found the back of the net and when the ensuing throw by Katia Ferreira went wide, the Americans were in front, 5-4, with one round left.
Mindy Cook (Columbus, Ohio), the lone Paralympic rookie on the U.S. roster, faced Brazil’s Ana Brito who had the first throw of the round. Cook read the ball off Brito’s hand and made a sliding save to end the marathon match and send the jubilant U.S. team into Friday’s gold medal final.
“What makes Mindy great is her determination and her focus,” Czechowski said. “She hasn’t had a lot of goalball competition, she’s relatively new to the sport, but the moment wasn’t too big for her. She did what she needed to do. She did what she was instructed to do. She read the ball and she exploded and that ended up being the key block at the end of the match there.”
“As a team we take one moment at a time,” Cook said. “That was my one moment, to block the ball, and what I was thinking about was this is for our team. It’s thrilling. It’s so exciting. We’re ready and we’re excited to go into that gold medal match.”
The U.S. women will now face the reigning gold medalist in Turkey, a team they rallied to beat on Monday, 4-3, after trailing 3-1, handing Turkey its only loss of the tournament.
USA Women’s Goalball:
- Aug. 25 USA v Brazil 8:30 PM (JST) 7:30 AM (EST) 4:30 AM (PST) – Won 6-4
- Aug. 27 USA v Egypt 7:00 PM (JST) 6:00 AM (EST) 3:00 AM (PST) – Won 10-0
- Aug. 28 USA v Japan 1:15 PM (JST) 12:15 AM (EST) 9:15 PM (PST) (Aug 27th) – Lost 2-3
- Aug. 30 USA v Turkey 7:30 PM (JST) 6:30 AM (PST) 3:30 AM (PST) – Won 4-3
- Sept. 1 quarterfinals vs Russian Paralympic Committee 7:30 PM (JST) 6:30 AM (EDT) 3:30 AM (PDT) – Won 5-3
- Sept. 2 semifinals vs. Brazil 7:30 PM (JST) 6:30 AM (EDT) 3:30 AM (PDT) – Won 5-4 (extra throws)
- Sept. 3 gold medal match vs. Turkey 5:45 PM (JST) 4:45 AM (EDT) 1:45 AM (PDT)
USA Men’s Goalball
- Aug. 26 USA v Brazil 1:15 PM (JST) 12:15 AM (EST) 9:15 PM (PST) (Aug 25th) – Won 8-6
- Aug. 27 USA V Japan 1:15 PM (JST) 12:15 AM (EST) 9:15 PM (PST) (Aug 26th) – Lost 11-1
- Aug. 29 USA v Algeria 5:30 PM (JST) 4:30 AM (EST) 1:30 AM (PST) – Won 13-5
- Aug. 30 USA v Lithuania 1:15 PM (JST) 12:15 AM (EST) 9:15 PM (PST) (Aug 29th) – Lost 3-13
- Aug. 31 quarterfinals vs Ukraine 3:00 PM (JST) 2:00 AM (EDT) 11:00 PM (PDT) (Aug. 30) – Won 5-4 (OT)
- Sept. 2 semifinals vs China 1:15 PM (JST) 12:15 AM (EDT) 9:15 PM (PDT) (Sept. 1) – Lost 8-1
- Sept. 3 bronze medal match vs Lithuania 3:00 PM (JST) 2:00AM (EDT) 11:00 PM (PDT) (Sept. 2)
Goalball Schedule: https://olympics.com/…/schedule/para-goalball-schedule…