Illinois women’s wheelchair basketball players make USA Paralympic team

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Illinois women’s wheelchair basketball players make USA Paralympic team

Illinois' Gail Gaeng readies for a shot during the wheelchair basketball game against Wisconsin-Whitewater at the ARC on Feb. 13. Gaeng is one of two Illini — the other is Megan Blunk — who qualified for the 2016 Rio Paralympics with Team USA.

Illinois' Gail Gaeng readies for a shot during the wheelchair basketball game against Wisconsin-Whitewater at the ARC on Feb. 13. Gaeng is one of two Illini — the other is Megan Blunk — who qualified for the 2016 Rio Paralympics with Team USA.

Kevin Vongnaphone | Senior photo

Illinois' Gail Gaeng readies for a shot during the wheelchair basketball game against Wisconsin-Whitewater at the ARC on Feb. 13. Gaeng is one of two Illini — the other is Megan Blunk — who qualified for the 2016 Rio Paralympics with Team USA.

Kevin Vongnaphone | Senior photo

Kevin Vongnaphone | Senior photo

Illinois' Gail Gaeng readies for a shot during the wheelchair basketball game against Wisconsin-Whitewater at the ARC on Feb. 13. Gaeng is one of two Illini — the other is Megan Blunk — who qualified for the 2016 Rio Paralympics with Team USA.

By Ryan Wilson

Two Illinois women’s wheelchair basketball players have qualified for their first Paralympics. Megan Blunk and Gail Gaeng will compete on the U.S. team at the 2016 Rio Paralympics on Sept. 7-18.

They will join an 11-player team, 10 of which were members of the team that won gold at the 2015 Parapan Am Games. The team’s biggest name is arguably Christina Schwab, five-time Paralympian and two-time gold medalist.

“I think that one of the biggest things we looked at was the trust that the athletes have in one another and the chemistry they have developed over the years. This was certainly a factor in how they worked together,” tTeam USA and Illinois head coach Stephanie Wheeler said.  “These characteristics are an important piece for us in moving forward and working towards Rio.”

A total of 18 women competed in scrimmages and drills on Jan. 4-6 in Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham, Alabama, for a spot on the U.S. Team. A six-member selection staff led by Wheeler evaluated each player.

Illini Kaitlyn Eaton, Shelby Gruss and Kendra Zeman did not make the final cuts, but the U.S. team will finalize its roster July 26 and could add a 12th member.

The U.S. qualified for the Rio Paralympic games after defeating all of its opponents by 55 points per game and winning the 2015 Parapan Games. The team was also fourth at the 2013 London Paralympics and won gold at the 2008 Beijing and 2003 Athens Paralympics.

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