by Kevin Burton
The USA women’s goalball team will come home with silver medals after a 9-2 loss to Turkey in the Paralympic final in Tokyo this morning.
The now two-time defending champion Turkey avenged its only loss of the tournament, a 4-3 loss to the US in the group stage.
Asya Miller and Eliana mason scored one goal each for the USA. Sevda Altunoluk, the only player remaining from the team that won Paralympic gold at Rio De Janeiro in 2016, scored all nine goals for Turkey.
Meanwhile the men’s team fell just short of a medal after a 10-7 loss to defending champion Lithuania in the bronze medal game this morning.
When these two met in preliminary round play Lithuania won 13-3. This game proved much closer. The USA had balanced scoring with Daryl Walker, Matt Simpson and Callahan Young all scoring two goals and John Kusku scoring once.
Overall it was a strong showing for USA goalball, with both teams making it to the final day of competition.
To advance those final two miles down that golden road, the US women would have to defeat teams they had already beaten in Group D play, Brasil and Turkey.
The semifinal win over Brasil Thursday was a 5-4 double overtime thriller won in extra throws.
Trailing 2-1 with less than 20 seconds left in regulation, US coach Jake Czechowski called timeout to strategize possibly the final throw, according to the United States Association of Blind Athletes website. He put the ball in the hands of leading scorer Amanda 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,” the website reported.
“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,” Czechowski said.
“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.”
The 2-2 tie lasted through two three-minute overtime periods. That sent the game to extra throws, the equivalent of a shootout in soccer. The US won 5-4 in extra throws with Mindy Cook from Columbus, Ohio making the save that sealed the win for the Americans.
That semifinal was the women’s third straight come from behind win.
The final pitted the most successful team in goalball history with the defending Paralympic champion.
The woman finished second to Turkey in group D on goal differential. In the group stage, USA came from behind to beat Turkey 4-3, on two second-half goals from Dennis.
There would be no such heroics this morning, as the US fell under the onslaught of goals from Altunoluk. The score was 6-1 Turkey at halftime and finished 9-2.
The silver marks the seventh time USA women’s goalball has earned a medal at the Paralympic games, according to the USABA Facebook page.
After finishing third in the group stage, the USA men’s team vaulted into the semi-finals in dramatic fashion Tuesday with a 5-4 win in sudden death overtime vs. Ukraine. Calahan Young scored a goal on the first throw of OT to seal the win. It was his fourth goal of the game and capped a comeback from 4-1 down in the second half.
The winning throw bounced off two Ukrainian defenders before finding the net.
Thursday’s semifinal held none of that drama, as China crushed the US 8-1. Young score the game’s opening goal just 13 second in, but after that it was all China. Three of China’s goals came on penalty throws.
The loss still left team USA with bronze medal hopes, but that was not to be.