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  • Writer's pictureAngelina Davila

Women's Wheelchair Update: From Bottom to Top? How 3 Teams Look To Improve

The 2022-2023 collegiate women’s wheelchair basketball season arrives soon. Well, soon-ish. Not everyone can be Alabama though, except maybe Alabama. CUNY, Whitewater, and Arizona definitely want to climb up the standings. Here's how those three squads look to improve:

University of Arizona

The Wildcats ended last season with an 0–3 conference record. The team lost 59–26 to UW Whitewater at the 2022 NWBA National Championship but bounced back winning a consolation game against CUNY, and placing fifth overall.

Head coach and Paralympian Josie Aslakson was excited to helm the Wildcats in their first college national tournament. She recognizes the challenges of last season.

“Our team had a tough year fighting a lot of adversity– players leaving the team mid-season, tournament travel being canceled last minute, a COVID scare at nationals. Nonetheless, it made us a stronger family unit and we are looking forward to building upon our 21-22 season foundation,” she said.

Aslakson considers a lack of elite experience and spirit, which she says go hand-in-hand, to be the team's biggest weakness.

“The more time we have together as a collegiate squad, the more knowledgeable the ladies will become about what it takes to win at an elite level, and that will feed into their confidence.”

With respect to how the Wildcats finished the season, Abby Dunn, an incoming sophomore, found some positives.

“I feel like we ended as strong as we could and we communicated well and learned each other’s strengths [like teamwork on and off the court],” she said.

Coach Aslakson wants to make big developments this season, like devising a stronger, more cohesive game strategy. “This past season, we had a team of mostly low-class players running the floor. They are so valuable to us but I am excited to add some more high-pointers to the mix this year." Only three Wildcats were classified above a 3.0.

At least seven athletes from both coasts and Australia recently committed to play for Arizona. Aslakson hopes to see them place in the top three this season with a few upset games while continuing, “to build [the] team culture into something amazing.”

Aslakson also intends to push herself to improve as a coach during her second year. “What I need to see changed on the team starts with what I need to change. I plan to prepare more to handle all the situations that caught me off-guard during my rookie coaching year.”

Aslakson will not settle this season.

“I want to see our team get hungry for wins– not be surprised by or satisfied with just one win.”

University of Wisconsin– Whitewater

The Warhawks, coached by three-time gold medal Paralympian Christina Schwab, ended last season with a 2–3 conference record and 6–9 overall. The team placed fourth at Nationals, winning the first round 59–26 against Arizona but lost to Alabama 69–32.

The team’s only senior LeToi Adams, an Army veteran, recently graduated, leaving behind mostly incoming sophomores and juniors, two of whom are classified above 3.5.

The Warhawks went from losing all games in the first semester to placing fourth at Nationals despite roster changes and COVID-19 outbreaks. Returning player Hannah Smith sees more growth to come.

“I know that with a shift in our team’s makeup, each of us will be adapting to new roles on the team this year. I am personally working to improve my ball-handling skills to benefit my team next season,” says Smith.

Graduate student Mandy Willmore brings more hope for the Warhawks. She made the 2022 USA Women’s Wheelchair Basketball team, joining former teammates Lindsey Zurbrugg and Josie DeHart. This experience will surely bring some new perspective to Whitewater’s evolving team.

But, the Warhawk’s main goal this season is not just more wins.

“If we develop and do better as a team than we did last year, I will be so proud. Our team is in a great spot for growth in the coming years,” says Smith.

Whitewater has a history of excellence, winning three national titles in the past eight years, and with more Paralympic background on the team, there are could be more to come.

City University of New York

With a conference record of 0–5 and overall 3–8, there is additional work to be done with this second-year collegiate team, but head coach Ryan Martin will be happy no matter where they end up.

Martin also says he wouldn’t change a thing about last season.

“It's about the journey and the hard moments were necessary towards building a long-term sustainable program in the future.”

CUNY still has an objective though. “Our goal is simple. To get better each day and continue to build towards the future,” as well as recruiting long-term athletes.

According to player Katherine Valdez, the team is improving on upper body strength, speed, agility skills, and “of course, continuing to develop that mental toughness that is a hallmark of Team CUNY.”

The group is working on this through in-person practices (which they did not have much of last season due to COVID-19), and outdoor activities like tennis, hand cycling, and racing.

Although placing sixth at Nationals, CUNY is not to be underestimated this season and is only getting better each day.

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