‘You should have to sacrifice’

By Josh Birnbaum

All their work was for one thing: the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament, to be hosted by the University of Illinois at the end of March. This was the national championship for collegiate wheelchair basketball.

Team Captain Denny Muha and the rest of the team had been preparing all year. They had even devoted their spring break to practicing – two practices, video sessions and weight lifting every day.

“They don’t have anything else to do but get ready for nationals now,” Head Coach Mike Frogley said. “If they’re not willing to do the work, then we shouldn’t win a championship; we shouldn’t be given it. It should be something that you earn and it should be difficult to achieve. You should have to sacrifice.”

The week of the championship came and they felt more prepared. They knew they had worked hard enough; they had done all they could to prepare.

The tournament began March 30 and the team played its first game against Southwest Minnesota State University on March 31, winning the contest 64-42.

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But the team’s biggest challenge was to come later that night when it was to play Wisconsin-Whitewater, the squad that had beaten them twice just two weeks before. This was the game that would determine if Illinois would move on to the first place game.

The game began, and the Illini were ahead 22-16 at the half. They stayed ahead until the last five minutes of the game, when Wisconsin overcame them. Illinois lost, 45-52.

Denny and the rest of the team were extremely disappointed, but they had another game to play the next day against Edinboro to determine if they earned third or fourth place.

“It hurts and I feel it right now; I feel Denny. That’s probably the best way to put it,” Frogley said after the loss to Whitewater.

However, the team came in the next morning refreshed and ready to play basketball and it defeated Edinboro 65-54 to earn third place, a place better than last year.

“It felt great,” Denny said. “We played so well versus Whitewater – we played one of our best games of the year and we peaked at the right time. That’s what’s most frustrating about it is that every team, they want to peak at the exact right time so they can be playing their best basketball at the end of the season.

“That’s exactly what we did – we were so prepared for that game and to lose that game was heartbreaking, but we knew that we didn’t have time to dwell on it and we couldn’t just hang our heads and feel sorry for ourselves because Edinboro was waiting for us,” Denny continued.

“I was upset for that night and I woke up the next morning and it was just all about Edinboro and just getting ready for that game.”

Frogley said he felt the same way.

“We stepped and we grew from yesterday to today,” Frogley said. “We grew . we wanted 50 hours of our best basketball, we wanted to be able to play our best game, we wanted to do what champions do. I think we learned how to do that, I think we learned how to do that today.”

And the team is excited about next year, too, because they aren’t losing any players and are gaining some new recruits.

“I was talking to (Whitewater Coach) Tracy at half court after the game,” Frogley said to the team after the tournament. “He’s like, ‘Hey next year, you and I, championship game.’ I said, ‘we’ll be there. We’ll be there. Make sure you can carry your end of the bargain.'”