US goalball teams prepare for Worlds
Date: April 29, 2014
By Rosanna Haroutounian
Seven men’s goalball teams from around the world met in Vilnius, Lithuania, on April 24 for three days of competition in the Lithuanian Blind Sports Federation’s International Men Goalball Tournament.
For the team representing the United States, this tournament marks the beginning of a nearly two-week long visit to Europe.
“This is a talented team that is well matched to the talented competition they'll face over the upcoming days,” says John Potts, Goalball High Performance Director for the United States Association of Blind Athletes and manager of the men’s team. “They have traditionally performed well in European competitions.“
The US competed against men’s teams from Algeria, Finland, Spain, Ukraine, and two teams representing host Lithuania.
“Because of distance, we have limited opportunity to play internationally,” says Potts. “This trip provides an opportunity to play many of the top teams we'll see at Worlds in Finland.”
The US women’s team is also preparing for the 2014 IBSA World Championships which take place in Espoo, Finland, from June 26 to July 6. Kenneth Armbruster, the team’s coach, says the Malmö Men and Lady Intercup will be a measuring stick for the World Championships.
“This is going to be the most inexperienced team I’ve ever had,” says Armbruster. He says the Malmö Intercup, which begins on May 25, will be the first time this US women’s team plays together internationally.
“I’m going to try different combinations to get a feel of who I can count on come the Worlds in Finland,” says Armbruster.
Armbruster has attended every Malmö Lady Intercup with his daughter and goalball player Jen Armbruster since the competition was founded in 2000. The US women’s team is the defending champion at Malmö has placed first seven times in the competition.
After so many competitions and victories, including Paralympic gold in 2008, Jen Armbruster says she no longer feels nervous at international competitions like the Intercup.
“I get more excited to see the young players step up and play,” she says. She adds that the Intercup brings together the best teams for high-level competitions outside of the World Championship and Paralympics.
“Teams like Turkey and Russia weren’t in the competitive mix 15 or 20 years ago,” she says. “It’s nice to see a lot more competitiveness across the women’s side.”
The World Championships in Finland are the first test for goalball teams hoping to qualify for the 2016 Paralympics in Rio. The top three men’s teams and top three women’s teams in the Championship will gain spots at the next Paralympic Games.
The US men’s team got off to a strong start in Lithuania, winning their first game 11-4 against Ukraine. They were defeated by Algeria, 7-3, then made a comeback against Finland, 5-4. On the second day of the tournament, the team tied in their game with the one of the Lithuanian teams, as well as with Spain. They lost 9-7 to the second Lithuanian team later that day. The team ended the tournament in sixth place after a defeat against the Spanish team for the fifth spot.
The team will continue training in Europe after the Lithuanian tournament, then compete in Belgium before returning home on May 5. Belgium’s Parantee Paralympic Championships, which began on April 18, combine three international tournaments on three different weekends. The goalball tournament takes place this weekend, preceded by the wheelchair basketball tournament and followed by the boccia tournament.
The Parantee Paralympic Championships, or PaPa Champs, will be live streamed at http://www.papachamps.be/home. The championships can also be followed on Twitter, @parantee (official hashtag #PaPaChamps), and on Facebook by searching PaPaChamps International Goalball Tournament.