Illini lead U.S. Paralympic team to gold

Ng Han Guan, The Associated Press

Ng Han Guan, The Associated Press

By Meghan Montemurro

“It’s absolutely amazing.”

Illinois alumna Sarah Castle’s Paralympic experience in Beijing was already one of the more memorable in her life.

And that was before Castle and her fellow Americans won their second consecutive gold medal at the Paralympic Games, capturing a 50-38 win against Germany in the final game.

“The only expectation was that we play our best, play our game and stick to the game plan,” Castle said Wednesday. “The ultimate goal is gold.”

The U.S. was perfect en route to the gold medal, finishing a combined 7-0 in the preliminary and elimination rounds, including wins against Australia, Brazil, China and Germany.

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The University is well represented in the women’s wheelchair basketball circle in Beijing by Castle, Carlee Hoffman, Jennifer Ruddell, Emily Hoskins, Christina Ripp, Stephanie Wheelerand Illinois women’s wheelchair head coach Patty Cisneros.

Of course, chemistry among college teammates never hurts.

“It’s been a really interesting experience getting back together with teammates I use to play with in college,” Castle said. “It’s a really unique experience to play both with and against your teammates.

“I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity and I think this team in particular represents the United States very well,” added Castle, a three-time Paralympian. “We understand what we stand for and what we are doing.”

Senior Carlee Hoffman admitted the knowledge and advantage of playing with current and former Illinois players can only help, especially on the international stage.

“We’ve kind of all been together since 2007,” Hoffman said. “Kind of knowing each other and knowing who can do what, it’s kind of nice and it has its benefits.”

Hoffman has taken on a leadership role for the U.S. In the gold medal game, Hoffman contributed 10 points to the winning effort in her second trip to the Games.Head coach Ron Lykins helped craft the team’s roster while pushing players to their limits. His ideal athlete features speed, chair handling, fundamentals and mental toughness – all of which were vital components to winning the gold medal.

“For a team, in an event like this, team chemistry is one of the most important thing you can have,” Lykins said. “They’re elite athletes; they’re elite basketball players. I wanted players that were flexible that could play different kinds of ball and that could play all positions and people that are smart.”

But it wasn’t just about Illinois.

“It’s a great honor,” Hoffman said of donning the USA jersey. “I’m really excited to be here and hopefully hear my national anthem and represent my country at the highest stage.”

Hoffman and her team represented the Red, White and Blue to the best of their abilities.

Their reward?

A gold medal.