Bounce, Bounce, swish, bounce, bounce, clank, these are just some of the sounds that echo throughout the Katchel gymnasium at 6:30, every Monday through Friday morning. These sounds do not come from your average students playing a pick up game, nor does it come from the national championship men’s basketball team, or the Final Four finalist women’s basketball team. These are the sounds of another Championship team, The women’s wheelchair basketball team.
These lady Warhawks are up before the roosters crow, and hit the gym early, rolling, shooting, dribbling, passing, and practicing for what hopes to be a forth national title in as many years.
This years team however is a lot different from past championship teams, as younger players are going to have to step up to replace the veterans that were lost.
The Warhawks are lead by Senior Jillian Host better know as Beans and Junior Mariska Beijer aka Mars. Host is the captain of the Warhawks, while Beijer won a bronze medal as a paralympian for the Netherlands.
Three seniors, a junior, a sophomore, and a freshman round out the rest of the Warhawk team. Vanessa Erskine (Sr), Lydia Sprain (Sr), and Rachel Nepper(Sr), Yarden Hershko(Jr), Dani Ebben(So), Amanda Sengdetka(Fr).
The 2014 – 2015 season has already gotten off to a rocky start for the lady Warhawks, as they went 1-3 during their home opening tournament on November 21-22. They were able to beat their boarder rival Illinois 45-38, but fell short to the University of Texas-Arlington twice, and the University of Alabama.
In a 70-28 blowout, it was sweet revenge for Alabama Crimson Tide, as they have lost the last three National Championships to these very Warhawks.
When asked how they plan on improving this season the girls had multiple responses on how they as individuals plan on getting better. “I am in the weight room 3 times a week, I do shooting 2-3 times a week, and I get together with teammates occasionally to work on things like passing, shooting” said Ebben.
Other teammates, like freshman Amanda Sengdetka, are working on the simpler things like lifting weights, to improve their shot distance. They also get together and watch film and study their opponents, as well as themselves. Some of the girls will even practice with the men’s team.
The Warhawks will have plenty of time to keep practicing and getting better as nationals don’t occur until late March. In the mean time they need to keep grinding away, according to the head of the wheelchair program, Jeremy “Opie” Lade. “We don’t focus on winning or losing; we try to focus on developing athletes on the court and off the court. If we take care of improving our fundamental skills, our knowledge of the game and our team first mentality the winning and losing will take care of itself.”
Winning and being a successful program however is important for the Warhawks to keep getting top-notch recruits to come to this smaller division three school. “Our main recruiting focus is how supportive our campus is of wheelchair basketball and our great tradition of being successful.” Opie added.
The lady Warhawks are in dire need of some fresh recruits as next season four of the eight girls will be leaving as this their senior season. It is a huge transition time, but these girls are determined to stay on top.
The University of Wisconsin Whitewater is used to being on top in Division three athletics. They have become a perennial powerhouse, winning 16 national championships in the past five years alone..
Last year, the University of Wisconsin Whitewater Warhawks pulled off a feat that has never been done by any college across any division, taking the triple crown in men’s sports. Their Football, Basketball, and Baseball, teams all took home top honors.
The men were not the only team to bring home hardware in 2013-2014. The Women’s Gymnasitc team also won a national championship, while the Men’s Wrestling team fell short placing second and the Women’s Basketball team made an appearance in the Final Four.
Then you bring Wheelchair Athletics into the mix, which is a sport little known around campus. This is quite surprising, considering they have put together 15 national championships of their own, and added another two to the trophy case last year.
Wheelchair basketball started in the year 1946 in two Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals in Birmingham (CAL) and Framingham (MA). World War II veterans were being treated for various degrees of paralysis. Realizing that they would be in a wheelchair for the rest of their lives, veterans were looking for ways to stay active, enter wheelchair basketball.
UW-Whitewater Wheelchair Athletics has been around since 1973 with the formation of the men’s wheelchair team, and over 40 plus years they have been around they have won 12 championships. If you do the math that’s an average of a championship about every three years.
The women’s team did not come about until the year 2008, which in that year they started as a club team. They became a true collegiate team in 2011 which just so happened to be when they won their first of three consecutive national championships.
There are a few common misconceptions when it comes to wheelchair athletics. The first is that it is completely different from other athletics, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. Just ask sophomore Dani Ebben.
“We are just as much of athletes as anyone else. People always see us as “different” and while we have some differences, we can do just about anything that anybody else can do and lead normal lives.”
Its hard for abled body people to see people with disabilities in the same light, and it drives senior Vanessa Erskine, better know as Mizz, a little bit crazy. “It’s not a sport created to make it easier for someone with a disability to be able to do and feel good about themselves as a “basketball player” or whatever sport they choose to play.”
Mizz believes that it might even be harder to play wheelchair basketball then in is regular basketball. “I would say that adaptive athletes might even be more coordinated than a regular athlete because they have to not only play the sport but also have to maneuver the wheelchair.”
Another common misconception is that is takes people in a wheelchair longer to do things then in would an able body person. While it does take longer for some daily activities, others can be quicker. “Luckily, being on wheels makes me faster than people walking so I don’t have to leave for class as early. I do have to make sure though, that I can get to one of the available seats in the room”
Some of the bigger challenges for these athletes are simple day to day tasks such as grabbing things off higher shelf’s, and being able to drive a car can be a little bit harder, but if you ask any off these Warhawks, they don’t feel even a little bit different then any able bodied person.
A typical day for them consists of waking about around 5:30 am to be in the gymnasium by 6:15. Practice from 6:30 to 8:30 then for most of them, to their first class. After class it is then back to scrimmage from 11:30 to 1:00 pm. After scrimmaging its back to class again. They then find time to either workout, do homework, and hang with friends before they call it a night. Impressive schedule for anyone to maintain, but for most they are powered by an outside force to keep going.
“Powered by Tradition” is the school motto and is believed and followed by all Warhawks. However, some have a little bit different view of what being a Warhawk truly mean to them.
“To me being a Warhawk means working as hard as you can all the time. Our program was built off of hard work and dedication and continues to be successful by athletes and staff giving everything they have all the time.”
Vanessa knows that in order to be successful it begins with hard work, but that’s not the only thing these Warhawks are going to have to do to repeat.
Ebben acknowledged that hard work is definitely apart of it, but more so. “It’s going to take a lot trial and error honestly. We are all filling in different roles than last year, and we just have to figure out what works and what doesn’t.” Trust in each other was another big thing Ebben stressed that the Warhawks need to work on this season.
Basketball is just a way a life for these girls and getting the world out about adapted athletics. Wheelchair athletics runs a program called cornerstones for success. “Cornerstones for success is a unique program that dispels myths about persons who have a disability and shows your students how they can be successful in and out of the classroom.”
Cornerstones for success is a two part program the first involving the personal lives of the athletes, and the second is a demonstration. During the demonstration students are shown the basic fundamentals of wheelchair basketball.
The Cornerstones for Success is meant for all age groups, as they have presented to elementary, middle, and high school students. These college athletes are great presenters and provide real life stories ranging from success they’ve had to overcoming their disability.
Schools or individual groups can contact wheelchair athletics if they wish to set up a presentation of Cornerstones For Success.
The wheelchair athletic program at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater not only turns out championship caliber teams, they also produce championship caliber people. Whitewater disability graduates are employed at a rate of 90-95 percent.
Makes one wonder what’s in the water at the University of Wisconsin Whitewater.