Wheelchair basketball holds top rank



By Josh Birnbaum

The No. 1 Illinois women’s wheelchair basketball team moves through this season with all of its veteran players as well as a new coach and a former able-bodied Illinois player.

The team decided to sign on Patricia Cisneros, a former point guard on the team, as its new coach this year. Cisneros is the first full-time, female wheelchair basketball coach in the country.

“She was my teammate my freshman year of college,” said six-year veteran and team captain Sarah Castle. “I can not only remember what I learned on the court from her then, I’m learning new things from her now.”

Men’s wheelchair basketball head coach Mike Frogley is excited to have Cisneros on board, especially because she was an athlete under his guidance.

“She understands the traditions we have and the principles of our program … but then she also spent some time away,” said Frogley, who coached both teams last season. “She’s helping me with the men’s program in the same way I’m helping her with the women’s program.”

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In addition, the team has a new player, Megan Nyquist, who used to play on the Illinois able-bodied women’s basketball team until injury prevented her from doing so any longer.

“The team was really accepting and open to me, and they knew it would probably take me a while to learn to catch on and get to where they were,” Nyquist said. “But they still are and have been from day one willing to work with me.”

In her junior year, Nyquist developed a herniated disc in her spine, which caused numbness in her leg. She had played wheelchair basketball before at the Ultimate Basketball Challenge, an annual April event that pits able-bodied basketball players in wheelchairs against wheelchair athletes.

After learning that she couldn’t play able-bodied basketball again, Nyquist contacted Frogley and joined the wheelchair team.

“Everything that I had learned through able-bodied basketball ended up being the complete opposite for wheelchair basketball,” Nyquist said. “Every practice is definitely a struggle.”

So far, the women have fared well in collegiate play. Last weekend at the Pioneer Classic tournament in Birmingham, Ala., Illinois faced-off twice against No. 2 University of Alabama, beating them both times.

“It was a good mid-year test for the ladies to see where they’re at,” Cisneros said. “It was kind of like a dress rehearsal because, more than likely, we’ll match up with Alabama in the championship game at women’s nationals.”

The National Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Tournament, hosted by the University of Illinois, will take place in Huff Hall at the end of February. The women will be looking to capture their third title in a row and take advantage of playing on their home court.

“They’re defending national champions, so everyone’s looking to bring them down and they know that pressure is out there,” Cisneros said. “They’re just rising to the challenge.”

This weekend, the team travels with the men to Edinboro University, where they will play men’s teams. Team captain Castle says she always looks forward to playing against them.

“It’s not only about playing and playing well,” Castle said. “Every time we play men we get to make a statement.”