Women’s wheelchair basketball wins title



By Josh Birnbaum

For the second year in a row and the fifth time in the last six years, the Illinois women’s wheelchair basketball team won the National Championship for the women’s division.

“We definitely peaked in the championship game, which is obviously what you want,” said team captain Carlee Hoffman, whose 17 points and 8.2 rebounds per game in the tournament earned her MVP honors. “This is all we’ve been training for – that one tournament, that one game of 40 minutes.”

The tournament, held in Warm Springs, Ga., featured the country’s best women’s teams, including the Phoenix Mercury, a club team with four former Illini and head coach Robbie Taylor, a former assistant coach at Illinois.

The Illini met Phoenix in the championship match, winning 53-36.

“We won a National Championship with three of those players and I won a gold medal with three of them,” said Hoffman, who scored 26 points against Phoenix. “It was kind of weird having to play my teammates from just last year.”

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Despite this familiar match-up, there were no hard feelings between the two teams after Illinois took the title, head coach Mike Frogley said.

“I know their feeling was that if they didn’t win they would want us to win it,” Frogley said. “If we hadn’t been able to win, I would’ve wanted them to be aational champions. We’re all family.”

In addition to the win, Hoffman and teammate Shelley Chaplin, who contributed 18 points and six assists against Phoenix, made First and Second Team All-American, respectively.

“(Hoffman) just did an outstanding job every single game,” Frogley said. “When we were struggling offensively, she came up and hit big shots.”

In an earlier game against the New Jersey Spinal Liberty, another starter, Kathleen O’Kelly-Kennedy, scored a high of 42 points, leading Illinois to a 76-14 victory.

O’Kelly-Kennedy explains that she used the game against the Spinal Liberty, a “developing team” according to Frogley, to prepare for more challenging games ahead.

“I wanted to work on my shot in that game,” O’Kelly-Kennedy said. “In the next game against Alabama, that really helped.”

Illinois had a closer game against Alabama, slipping by them 43-40. The ladies also defeated Arizona 49-39, and the Dallas Mavericks 33-23.

Early wins were not as easy for the women, but their defense and well-performing younger players pulled them through, Frogley said.

Freshman players Lena Henrikkson and Edina Mueller saw more minutes in tournament games than they did in the regular season.

“The younger players, all season they got more experience,” said Hoffman. “By the tournament, they were able to step up and know what they needed to do to play well.”

Henrikkson, an exchange student from Sweden, said that she struggled when first playing on the team, but learned her role after much practice.

“We really worked hard this year,” Henrikkson said. “I’ve never worked so hard in my entire life.”

The team had to work as hard as they did in part because of internal troubles – injuries, illnesses, surgeries and a player leaving the team early in the season all made for a difficult season.

Frogley was especially proud of the team for overcoming a very tough year.

“They had a lot of obstacles,” Frogley said. “It’s one of the most impressive efforts I’ve seen for overcoming adversity.”