Illini women’s wheelchair basketball team used recent tournament as practice for Nationals

By Josh Birnbaum

The Illinois women’s wheelchair basketball team struggled in tournament play this weekend at the Intramural Physical Education Building. Facing a field of top men’s teams, the Illini dropped all four of its games in what were the team’s final matchups before the women’s national tournament.

“They did some things really well, and they also did things poorly,” head coach Patty Cisneros said.

The women started slowly in their first two games against the Edinboro and Whitewater men, losing 41-30 and 75-35, respectively. Whitewater scored 16 points off 14 Illinois turnovers.

The Illini were missing three of their starters, however, and other team members were still recovering from a flu that many players contracted earlier in the week.

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Illinois fared better in its third game against the Southwest Minnesota State University men, but still lost in the last minutes, 39-35. Cisneros said that they “threw the ball away” at the end of the game.

“As always it would have been nice to win, but it was a really good opportunity to practice our end game,” said Bridie Kean, who contributed eight points and 11 rebounds. “A few of us who don’t usually play in end games had an opportunity to put what we practice everyday into a real game.”

Committing 16 turnovers killed the Illini, even though SMSU shot just 29.7 percent from the field. Nevertheless, the women used it as an opportunity to give each player some minutes in the game.

“It was a really good test for our bench players,” freshman Casandra Rightmyer said. “We got a whole lot more playing time.”

The women’s team played one final exhibition game against the Illini men, in what was their last game before the women’s national tournament, which will be held in Champaign at Huff Hall from Feb. 27 – Mar. 1.

“We play our men everyday, but to have a game-like experience, to have referees out there, to have the whole feel of the game prepares them one step further,” Cisneros said.

Overall, this weekend’s tournament was just one way to toughen up before returning to play women’s teams.

“This weekend was a great opportunity to get ready for women’s nationals, which was the way we mentally prepared for our games,” Kean said.

A large crowd attended the tournament, so the women are expecting a lot of fans at women’s nationals in two weeks.

“It makes us play so much better when we have so many fans behind us, cheering us on and rooting for us,” Rightmyer said. “It would really help if we could have that many come to women’s nationals.”

Regardless, the women will be practicing hard for the next week. Three of their starters will return from a tournament in Osaka, Japan, helping them get back on their feet.

“We will have everybody back hopefully,” Cisneros said. “A lot of girls want to win it on our court. It’s just one more factor that’s going to play into their emotional level.”