PARALYMPIC COACH PROFILE: Stephanie Wheeler (Wheelchair Basketball – USA)
Stephanie Wheeler has established herself as a mainstay on the U.S. Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team. Entering Beijing, Wheeler was one of a handful of players returning from a U.S. team that won gold in Athens, Greece. A starter throughout the 2008 Paralympic Games, Wheeler once again led Team USA to a gold medal.
Wheeler is a graduate of the University of Illinois, where she received a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology and was a member of three wheelchair basketball national championship teams. She is now the head coach for the women’s wheelchair basketball team at Illinois. Wheeler is working on her Ph.D. in Adapted Physical Education
2010: Gold medal – IWBF Gold Cup, Birmingham, England
2009: National champion with University of Alabama, Tournament MVP, All-Tournament Team member
2008: Gold medal, U.S. Paralympic Women’s Wheelchair Basketball Team – Paralympic Games, Beijing, China
2008: First place – North American Cup, Birmingham, Alabama
2008: First place – Joseph F. Lyttle World Basketball Challenge, Warm Springs, Georgia
2008: First place, Tournament MVP, All-Tournament Team member – Osaka Cup, Osaka, Japan
2007: Gold medal – Parapan American Games, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
2006: Silver medal – IWBF Gold Cup (World Championships), Amsterdam, The Netherlands
2004: Gold medal – Paralympic Games, Athens, Greece
2003: Women’s National Championship Tournament MVP
2002: Silver medal – IWBF Gold Cup, Kitakyushu, Japan
Three-time national champion with the University of Illinois
“The selection of the U.S. women’s team was a tough choice for head coach Stephanie Wheeler and the selection committee, as all of the athletes are deserving of selection,” said Jim Scherr, NWBA Executive Director. “The talent of this team brings a wealth of experience from prior Paralympics and World Championships, and familiarity to draw from that will provide the United States success in Rio. This team is deep in talent, and provides our coaching staff an ability to establish numerous lineups as we build towards Rio in September.”
Making their third Games appearance are Becca Murray of Germantown, Wisconsin and Natalie Schneider of Crete, Nebraska. Both Murray and Schneider won gold in 2008 and finished fourth in 2012. Murray has also played in two World Championships in 2010 and 2014, and was joined by Schneider in 2010.
Five athletes will return for their second Games appearance after success at the Parapan Am Games in Toronto, Canada, last summer, and are led by the offensive juggernaut Rose Hollermann of Elysian, Minnesota; and the defensive strengths of Darlene Hunter of Commerce Township, Michigan; Desiree Miller of Monroe, Washington; and Jennifer Poist of McSherrystown, Pa. Hunter and Miller both played on the 2010 World Championship team, while Hollermann and Poist were members of the 2014 World Championship team.
Mackenzie Soldan of Hemlock, Michigan will be making her second appearance in the Games but her first in wheelchair basketball. Soldan competed in tennis in London 2012, but shortly after the London Paralympics she came back to wheelchair basketball and competed on the 2014 U.S. Women’s World Championship team and helped Team USA to the gold medal at the 2015 Parapan Am Games.
2014 World Championship teammates and 2015 Parapan Am Games teammates Megan Blunk of Gig Harbor, Washington, and Abigail Dunkin of New Braunfels, Texas, will make their first trip to the Games in September. Also joining will be Vanessa Erskine of Kearney, Missouri, a Youth Parapan Games gold medalist.
“The decision was difficult in selecting the final 12 members of this Paralympic Games team, and I am thankful for the input from the selection committee,” said U.S. Women’s Head Coach Stephanie Wheeler of Champaign, Illinois. “We have been working together for several months as a team, and have grown together in training camps and international competitions. The mixture of veterans and newcomers brings talent, skill and energy that should position the United States well this September.”
Up next for the U.S. Women will be the second U.S. Women’s International Friendly at the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York, June 22-26. Team USA will close out its 2016 international schedule at the Women’s World Super Cup in Frankfurt, Germany, July 13-18. The 12 women will have one more training camp in Colorado Springs prior to the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, scheduled for Sept. 7-18.
The U.S. women’s team qualified for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games by winning the 2015 Parapan American Games. The U.S. women dominated the Parapan Am competition by outscoring their opponents by 55 points per game and avenged their 2014 World Championships fourth-place finish by defeating Canada for the gold medal in Toronto, Canada.
The U.S. Women’s Head Coach is Stephanie Wheeler of Champaign, Illinois, who won two Paralympic gold medals at the 2004 and 2008 Games, and will be assisted by NWBA Hall of Famer Trooper Johnson of San Lorenzo, California, and Amy Spangler of Madison, Wisconsin, with Kearstin Gehlhausen of Whitewater, Wisconsin, serving as the team leader, and Karla Wessels of Lexington, Kentucky, is the athletic trainer. Dr. Roberta Kraus of Colorado Springs, Colorado, serves as both the men’s and women’s Team Psychologist.
The U.S. Women’s team finished fourth at the London 2012 Paralympics, after claiming the gold medal at the Beijing 2008 and Athens 2004 Paralympic Games.