Preliminary play began at Future Arena today in Rio de Janeiro for the U.S. Women’s Goalball Team. Smiling and waving, Team USA entered the arena anxious to take on host country Brazil. They were welcomed by a nearly full arena of local spectators wearing green and yellow – the colors of the Brazilian flag. The vibrant crowd of fans erupted when the Brazilian Women’s Goalball Team entered the arena and didn’t quiet until the whistle was blown to begin the game.
Paralympians Asya Miller, Amanda Dennis and Lisa Czechowski started for Team USA. In the first minute, Victoria Amorim of Brazil scored on a gap between Dennis (center) and Czechowski (left wing). In the next two minutes, Miller returned the favor and tied the game with a throw between the gap of two Brazilian players.
The second Brazilian goal was scored on a penalty Miller was unable to defend. Then, in just one minute of play, both Miller and Czechowski incurred two penalties resulting in 2 more points for Brazil. About two minutes before the end of the first half, Eliana Mason made her Paralympic debut, replacing Czechowski at left wing. At the half, Brazil was up 6-1.
Between each play and during timeouts, cheers from the crowd filled the arena. Having just watched the Brazilian Men’s Goalball Team beat Sweden, local fans were full of energy and hope for a second win in the first day of competition.
Two minutes into the second half, Miller scored again in the gap between right wing and center. With six minutes left in the game, Dennis scored her first Paralympic goal on a Brazilian long ball penalty by throwing along the line to score in the right corner. Unfortunately, Team USA ran out of time in the second half while trying to make up for the penalties incurred in the first half. Though the U.S. women won the second half (2-1), a final score of 7-3 will give the team a loss on their first game in preliminary play.
“You have to give credit to Brazil for taking advantage of their penalty shots,” said Assistant Coach, Jake Czechowski. “But we do need to make some adjustments to get away from those penalties,” added player Lisa Czechowski.
A four-point margin was not expected, but the energy and enthusiasm from Brazilian fans was. “We expected the crowd to be rowdy and the energy level to be high,” said Miller. “But we didn’t expect to play substandard defense. We got that out of the way and we’re looking forward now.”
Mason, one of the team’s first-time Paralympians, was not distracted by the outcome, nor the noise, and is also focused on the games ahead. “When we walked in and heard the cheers, it felt like we were in a stadium,” said Mason. “The noise helps me focus though. It makes me realize we need to get the job done and show everyone what we’ve got.”
After not making it to quarter finals in London at the 2012 Paralympic Games, the U.S. women are hungry for redemption. The women’s team will play three more preliminary games (vs. Algeria, Japan and Israel) before quarterfinals begin on Wednesday, September 14. Teams must finish in the top four of their group to advance to quarterfinals. Competition continues tomorrow at 9:00am BRT when U.S. Men’s Goalball takes on China in their first preliminary game of what’s been described as the “group of death”. U.S. Women’s Goalball takes on Algeria at 2:30pm BRT. You can follow plays of every goalball game minute-by-minute and find results at http://www.rio2016.com.