Illinois men’s, women’s wheelchair squads compete in Illinois Crossover

Every athletic team’s ultimate goal is to win a national championship. And that is exactly what drives both the men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams.

As the men prepare for their last conference tournament this weekend, the Illinois Crossover at the ARC, they will be playing for the top seed in the upcoming national championship tournament in March.

“We haven’t played the South conference teams since the first tournament of the year. It will be a real test to see how we’ve developed since that time and how they’ve developed,” head coach Mike Frogley said. “We want to make sure we play well this weekend so we carry positive momentum in the final weeks of the season.”

To get the top seed, No. 1 Illinois will have to get past Missouri on Friday night before playing No. 3 Texas-Arlington and Southwest Minnesota State on Saturday.

This tournament will provide the Illini with challenges, especially with Missouri being a young team, Frogley said. He added that young squads usually improve the most as the season progresses. Illinois will also have a tough rivalry game against Texas-Arlington, which will be looking for revenge from December when Illinois beat them on its home court.

The goal for the Illini is to prepare themselves for nationals and to fix any weaknesses before going to Minnesota for the postseason. The only flaw they see for the future is not being focused for every game and becoming worn out.

“We just need to keep ourselves mentally focused so we don’t snap or break down,” junior Tom Smurr said. “We’ve been in the gym every day since September, so it’s really important that we see that it’s necessary to achieve the ultimate goal, a championship.”

The main focus in the coming weeks is not becoming a “plateau team” like they did last year, when the Illini lost in the final minutes of the championship game.

“The guys are chomping at the bit, the guys want to get to nationals. They want to get some redemption from last year,” Frogley said.

Women’s squad ready for tough competition at Crossover

The women’s team will also compete in the Illinois Crossover this weekend and will also play against all the men’s teams. Two starters will be absent as they compete in an international tournament for the Australian national team in Japan.

“The main goal is to focus on the things we can control and things we know we can do well,” head coach Stephanie Wheeler said. “We use these college division games to keep us prepped during the season before we go to the women’s open league division national championship in April.”

Competing against men could be intimidating, but the Illini just focus on getting better with each game no matter the team.

“We definitely look forward to each game and to be able to show how good we are. We love the challenge a men’s team gives us,” said sophomore Tatyana McFadden.

Playing against men, the women use a different game plan. The focus at practice is on keeping space and movement on defense, especially when the men stop chairs and lock the women down, said Wheeler.

They’ve also concentrated on being aggressive and putting chairs on the men.

“Overall we just need to focus on our own goals for each game, and if we do those things well then we consider that game a success,” Wheeler said.