Wheelchair basketball teams head to nationals


Morgan Reames

For The University of Alabama’s two wheelchair basketball teams, success is nothing new. The women’s team has competed in the last five national championship games and is headed to their sixth consecutive title game at the 2013 National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Championship this week.

“After a tough loss in the championship game last year, we have really had a whole new drive for this season,” Lindsey Mertz, president of the women’s team, said. “Really the whole season we have been focused on doing the things we need to do to be successful in the national championship tournament.”

Beginning Thursday through Saturday, eight men’s teams and four women’s teams from different conferences will compete at the Lakeshore Foundation.

“I feel very positive about the games coming up,” Mertz said. “We have really worked on a lot of things over the last few weeks and gotten a lot better as a team going into the tournament. I’m very proud of the hard work that the whole team has put into working to get better.”

The women’s national championship game will be Saturday at 1 p.m. and the men’s will be at 3 p.m. The tournament will be played on a single-elimination basis between teams from Alabama, University of Illinois, University Wisconsin-Whitewater and Edinboro University. The University of Alabama men’s and women’s teams are currently seeded No. 2 in the tournament, which will determine the teams they will play in the first match.

“With our No. 2 seed, we start off the tournament against No. 3, University of Illinois,” Mertz said.

The Southeastern Conference will be represented by the Alabama women’s team and men’s teams from Auburn and Missouri.

“We have won three championships with the women, and the men have advanced as far as the final four in the past,” Hardin said. “Both teams are ready.”

The women’s team were back-to-back national champions in 2009, 2010 and 2011. They have also advanced to the championship game five years in a row. Mertz said the women’s team continues to better themselves.

“That’s really been what the season is all about, that each individual member of the team is willing to do what needs to be done to make the team better,” Mertz said.

The UA wheelchair basketball team was started with the women’s team in 2003, followed by the men’s, added in 2006. Both teams are part of the National Wheelchair Basketball Association.

“The program has come a long way in nine short years,” Brent Hardin, founder and director of the UA wheelchair basketball program, said. “We have won three national championships, and played in five straight championships games on the women’s side. The men’s team is the favorite to win it all this year.”

Hardin said with a 20-win season for both the women’s and men’s teams, they feel well prepared for nationals.

“It has been a great season,” Hardin said. “We are the underdogs on the women’s side. That is new for the women’s team, and we are embracing the challenge.”

Mertz said with a lot of extra work, along with high-intensity practices and positive attitudes toward each other, the team has had a very successful season.

“We have an overall record of 21 wins and seven losses, with our only losses being to men’s teams or the defending national champions,” Mertz said. “Beyond that, what really defines our season is that we took each opportunity, whether it was a win or a loss, to make ourselves better and learn moving toward nationals.”

The tournament begins Thursday at 5 p.m. with the Alabama men’s team vs. Southwest.

“I would like to encourage everyone to come over to Lakeshore in Birmingham for the championship tournament,” Hardin said. “Admission is free, and we really need the student support.”

Directions to the tournament and game schedule can be found on the tournament website, nationals.alabamaadapted.com.

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