Introducing the 2018 USA Women’s wheelchair basketball team | With the average team age of 21, many of these players are seeing a wheelchair basketball “big stage” for the first time. Rose Hollermann and Abigail Dunkin are the veterans of this team, both at the age of 22. Rose was at the 2012 London and 2016 Paralympic Games and Dunkin made her USA debut at the 2014 World Championships and was also at the 2016 Rio Paralympics. The age range of this rather “unknown” roster starts with the youngest, Ixhelt Gonzalez, who is just 14 years old and tops off with captains Morgan Wood, 24 years old, and Shelby Gruss, 26 years old.
Josie Aslakson: A strong 1.0 player with many years of experience. Started playing very young in the Minnesota juniors program and won a national Championship with the University of Texas-Arlington. Good speed and a very intelligent player.
Shelby Gruss: Being injured later in life, started playing rather late. Went to the University of Illinois where she developed sound fundamentals under the coaching of former USA Head Coach Stephanie Wheeler. Aggressive defender, great communicator and consistent shot from just below the freethrow line.
Riley Ljungdahl: Last Name pronounced “Young-Dahl”, Riley is an “up and coming” 1.0. Her desire to learn and go the extra step will take her far. She’s currently playing on a juniors and women’s team in Colorado but her future is very bright.
Kaitlyn Eaton: Also known as “Squirrell”, Kaitlyn also has many years of experience through the junior and collegiate divisions. Playing for a strong Houston, TX juniors program and then continuing on at the University of Illinois, Kaitlyn has great knowledge for the game. Her strengths are communication, chair skills and speed.
Ali Ibanez: This is Ali’s debut to the USA women’s team and she’s already making a name for herself. Stepping into the starting 5 during the Dutch Battle, Ali is growing quickly into a strong dive position for Rose Hollermann. Her long arm-span, speed and chair skills aren’t to be underestimated. Ali is currently in the juniors and women’s division of the NWBA.
Lindsey Zurbrugg: AKA “Zurbs”, was first named the USA Women’s team in 2017, after only playing for a few years. She’s quickly found herself on the threat list with her outside shot and great finishing inside the paint. Not scared of chair contact and willing to do whatever it takes to get the ball makes her a critical part to this young team.
Morgan Wood: Known to her teammates at “Mo”. Morgan has been a part of the USA program for a few years. Making her first senior national team in 2017, she quickly established herself as a leader on and off the court. Her shot is deadly and her communication and ability to keep calm and read the court is critical. Morgan helped start the women’s collegiate team at the University of Texas-Arlington, where she has won multiple national championships and awards.
Abigail Dunkin: making her first team in 2014, Abby was able to learn from some incredible players heading into the Rio Paralympics. Her “able bodied” (before disability” basketball days contributes to her love for the game and killer shot. Abby currently plays for the University of Texas-Arlington, where she has won multiple national championships.
Rose Hollermann: Two time Paralympian and with years of experience. Rose has learned from some of the best and has the experience that will keep her at the top of the threat list for the USA team. Her passion for the game cannot be matched and she has developed into a great all-around player. Her speed and aggressiveness not only makes her a solid defender, but a force on offense (accompanied by her consistent shot). She “leaves it all on the court”.
Ixhelt Gonzalez: Also known as “Itsy” or “Gonzo”, Ixhelt is the youngest of the team. Her passion for the game and desire to always be better and learn will take her a long way. Her speed and agility are already matching those with twice her experience and are will to fight for every point, rebound and possession can’t be overlooked.
Bailey Moody: Calm and collected but also a fighter. Bailey will “dig deep” to give her best, every time. Also one of the youngest on the team, Bailey is proving her future, as well as team USA’s future, is very bright.
Emily Oberst: Also known as “Selfie” to her teammates. Emily started with the Milwaukee, WI juniors team and then played her first year collegiately at the University of Alabama, where she trained daily against many other young international players that are also beginning their time with their respective national teams. Emily also comes from a “pre-disability” basketball background. Although small, Emily fights inside the paint and is proving to be a solid finisher. In just a few years the growth Emily has shown with speed and chair control is outstanding. Now playing at the University of Illinois, under former USA head coach, Stephanie Wheeler, as well as being in the USA team and learning from current head coach, Lawerence Johnson, her development will only continue to sky rocket.
And that’s your 2018 USA women’s wheelchair basketball team! Make sure to catch them on August 16, for their opening game at the worlds championships at 13:30 against France!
Text: Vannesa Erskine | Photo: Steffie Wunderl