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Wheelchair basketball teams play first games in Foster

Women's wheelchair Basketball v. Illinois Friday evening in Foster auditorium./CW|Megan Smith

Mary Grace Showfety

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The Alabama men’s and women’s wheelchair basketball teams made history in Foster Auditorium Friday night as the Crimson Tide took on the Illinois Fighting Illini in their final collegiate tournament of the season. The match will go down as the first wheelchair basketball game ever to be played in Foster.

WOMEN’S WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL

The Alabama women’s wheelchair basketball team beat the Illinois Fighting Illini in the Tide’s last collegiate tournament of the season Friday night. The Illini started the game off well, going up 2-0 over the Tide in the opening minutes. After that, it was all downhill for Illinois. Alabama crushed the Fighting Illini in the first half, up 37-27 at the break. Cindy Ouellet led Alabama in scoring in the first half with 11 points. Alabama took the momentum into the second half, eventually coming away with a 68-49 victory. Alabama had four players score in the double digits. Karolina Lingyte led Alabama with 15 points, while Ouellet finished with 13. Annika Zeyen and Katie Harvock finished with 14 and 10 points, respectively. The Crimson Tide came out victorious over the Illini, but the win was not the only cause for celebration for the team. After winning three consecutive national championships in 2009, 2010 and 2011, they were presented with their national championship rings by UA President Robert Witt. “This is great, and I really appreciate Dr. Witt and Provost [Judy] Bonner for making it possible,” said Brent Hardin, director of wheelchair athletics. “They’ve been our biggest supporters from the start. We started here in Foster when it was not a very nice place, and to get to come back here and see it now and play in front of all of these fans is just great for our student athletes.” The Tide began practice in Foster Auditorium nine years ago when the program was founded with just the women’s team. As the regular season draws to a close, the team is beginning to gear up for nationals in just two weeks. Cindy Ouellet, a returning player for the Tide, said she is confident her team can continue to improve along their road to another championship. “It’s going to be exciting, and obviously there’s a lot of pressure,” Ouellet said. “But if we play as a team, we can have it.” The Tide hopes to be able to continue their journey to nationals with a positive attitude and hard work. The Tide also has the advantage of returning 10 players to its roster from last season’s championship squad. Annika Zeyen, also a veteran, said she has high hopes for the team, as well. “We are proud of our championship last year, but this year is a new year, and we have to play well in order to win,” Zeyen said. “It doesn’t matter what happened last year.”

MENS WHEELCHAIR BASKETBALL

The Alabama men’s wheelchair basketball team hosted their final tournament of the season this weekend. The No. 3 Crimson Tide came out strong against the Fighting Illini of Illinois. Having previously lost to Texas on Friday, the Tide was determined to end the day in victory. Alabama came out with intensity in the first half, and it showed. The Tide’s play was somewhat sloppy, as it made numerous unnecessary fouls. Still, the Tide was able to transition early and leave Foster Auditorium with a 74-66 victory, in what head coach Miles Thompson called a “must-win game.” “We played well there in spurts, but there’s room for a lot of improvement and growth in what we’re doing out there,” Thompson said. “We’re a young team, and sometimes we play pretty young.” Jared Arambula said the Tide still remains a force to contend with, despite mistakes made during the game. “I’d like our team to grow and get better for nationals,” Arambula said. “It’s in two weeks, and I’d really like our defense to get better. We need to improve defensively, though. We worked the ball around, and when people were hot, we gave them the ball, so we definitely fed the ball well tonight.” Alabama had four players score in the double digits. Arambula managed to have 14 points in the first half alone and finished the game with 22 total points. Mark Booth finished with 11 points for the Tide, while Kyle Killworth and Ryan Hynes finished with 14 and 21 points, respectively. But Arambula said the thrill from a win isn’t the only thing that this team plays for. Their season has been dedicated to the city of Tuscaloosa and the victims of the April 27 tornado. The Tide wears special shirts before every game in memory of the day. Both the men’s and women’s teams will compete in hopes of bringing home another national championship in two weeks. “We’re working hard for something bigger than ourselves,” Arambula said.

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Wheelchair basketball teams play first games in Foster