Thanks to United States Association of Blind Athletes for story
TOKYO, Japan (September 2, 2021) – For the third straight game, the USA women’s goalball team rallied from behind to seize victory at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games. In Thursday’s semifinal match against Brazil, they did it in the most dramatic fashion yet…pulling out the win on the sixth and final round of extra throws at Makuhari Messe Hall C to earn a spot in the coveted gold medal final on Friday against defending Paralympic champion Turkey.
After defeating Brazil by a 6-4 margin on the opening day of competition back on Aug. 25, the U.S. offense was stymied on Thursday by the Brazilians for the first 21 minutes of the 24-minute game until Amanda Dennis (Peachtree City, Ga.) finally put a ball in the back of the net with 2:28 left on the clock to pull the U.S. within a goal at 2-1. With under 20 seconds remaining and possession of the ball, U.S. Head Coach Jake Czechowski called timeout to strategize possibly the final throw the Americans would have, and he put the ball in the hands of the team’s leading scorer…Dennis.
Dennis, who’s been thriving in pressure situations all tournament, came through in the clutch once again as she drilled a throw down the line past the Brazilian defense with 15.4 ticks on the clock to send the game into sudden-death overtime.
Czechowski said –
“Every once in a while, you get lucky enough to have an athlete who not only has the heart, the determination and the fight of a true champion but she’s also got the athletic skill to back that up. Amanda’s just one of those rare athletes. She’s never going to give up. She’s never gonna say die, and she’s able to do exactly what she needs to when she needs to do it. We called a shot out of that play and she was able to execute it. As soon as she let it go, she knew it was going to hit the back of the net.”
Dennis gave credit to the preparation the team has done for pressure-filled moments at the United States Olympic & Paralympic Training Site at the Turnstone Center in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Dennis commented –
“One thing that we practice a lot in Fort Wayne is these situations where we are down and we have to come back. We kind of have the advantage that we’re able to train at Turnstone and we have so much support from USABA (United States Association of Blind Athletes) to be able to have the opportunity to work together and to have a lot of team camaraderie. Though we were viewed as the underdogs, we’re in that gold medal game tomorrow and that is just amazing. It just shows all of the hard work and all the resources and support we’ve gotten in the last five years to get where we are today.”
In the two three-minute overtime periods after Dennis’ tying goal, both defenses were flawless although the U.S. came close to ending the match on two occasions. Dennis banged a shot off the post in the first overtime and Eliana Mason (Beaverton, Ore.) had her shot deflect off the crossbar in the second extra period.
With no winner decided, the game went to extra throws with each team submitting a lineup sheet listing the order the six players on the roster would throw and defend.
After Lisa Czechowski (Boonton, N.J.) and Brazil’s Ana Duarte traded goals in the first round, Dennis came through again with a block of Jessica Gomes and a goal in the second round to put the U.S. up 4-3. Brazil tied it at 4-4 in the third round when Marybai Huking (Salt Lake City, Utah) was called for a high ball and Brazil’s Moniza Aparecida converted her chance.
The fourth round saw Asya Miller (Portland, Ore.) and Brazil’s Victoria Amorim both come up with huge saves to keep the score tied. With the first throw of the fifth round, Mason found the back of the net and when the ensuing throw by Katia Ferreira went wide, the Americans were in front, 5-4, with one round left.
Enter Mindy Cook (Celina, Ohio), the lone Paralympic rookie on the U.S. roster, to face Brazil’s Ana Brito who had the first throw of the round. Cook read the ball off Brito’s hand and made a sliding save to end the marathon match and send the jubilant U.S. team into Friday’s gold medal final.
Jake Czechowski –
“What makes Mindy great is her determination and her focus. She hasn’t had a lot of goalball competition, she’s relatively new to the sport, but the moment wasn’t too big for her. She did what she needed to do. She did what she was instructed to do. She read the ball and she exploded and that ended up being the key block at the end of the match there.”
Cook said –
“As a team we take one moment at a time. That was my one moment, to block the ball, and what I was thinking about was this is for our team. It’s thrilling. It’s so exciting. We’re ready and we’re excited to go into that gold medal match.”
The U.S. women will now face the reigning gold medalist in Turkey, a team they rallied to beat on Monday, 4-3, after trailing 3-1, handing Turkey its only loss of the tournament.
The road to the GOLD:
USA Women’s Goalball:
August 25th USA v Brazil 8:30 PM (JST) 7:30 AM (EDT) 4:30 AM (PDT) – Won 6-4
August 27th USA v Egypt 7:00 PM (JST) 6:00 AM (EDT) 3:00 AM (PDT) – Won 10-0
August 28th USA v Japan 1:15 PM (JST) 12:15 AM (EDT) 9:15 PM (PDT) (Aug 27th) – Lost 3-2
August 30th USA v Turkey 7:30 PM (JST) 6:30 AM (EDT) 3:30 AM (PDT) – Won 4-3
September 1st quarterfinals vs Russian Paralympic Committee 7:30 PM (JST) 6:30 AM (EDT) 3:30 AM (PDT) – Won 5-3
September 2nd semifinals vs. Brazil 7:30 PM (JST) 6:30 AM (EDT) 3:30 AM (PDT) – Won 5-4 (extra throws)
September 3rd gold medal match vs. Turkey 5:45 PM (JST) 4:45 AM (EDT) 1:45 AM (PDT)