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Team Canada

Special Olympics Team Canada team sports shine

In the final days of competition at the 2015 Special Olympics World Summer Games, Team Canada’s team sports played several exciting final matches to close out their terrific tournaments. We wanted to relive the thrills with these recaps of how they made everyone proud with their last games and their overall sportsmanship and skills.

Basketball: bronze-medal game vs. Belgium

The first-ever Special Olympics Team Canada basketball team had played a nailbiter against Belgium in their last round-robin game, where the lead swung back and forth and points poured in through the fourth quarter. Vancouver’s Alex Pang and Langley’s Matthew Williams shone for Canada, shooting well in this competitive game. But Belgium squeaked out a narrow 34-31 win.

Team Canada basketball was primed and ready for the rematch in the bronze-medal game on July 31 on the big court at USC. Many cheering fans and cheerleading squads were in the stands as Canada and Belgium took to the hardcourt for the big rematch.

The teams once again matched each other basket for basket, ending the first quarter with Canada up 8-7 on the strength of solid shooting by the likes of Pang and Langley’s Alastair Singh. The neck-and-neck play continued in the second quarter, as the teams went to halftime with Canada up 16-15. Vancouver’s Shane Carr, Williams, and Pang sank clutch baskets and Carr’s strong rebounding broke up Belgium’s possession at key moments.

In the third quarter, Belgium managed to pour on the heat and pull away to a 28-21 lead. But Team Canada was not cowed, responding in the fourth with three baskets by Williams and Singh to pull back within striking distance at 30-27 for Belgium.

The final minutes had fans on the edges of their seats as Belgium maintained their narrow lead and Canada fought with everything they had to close the gap. Canada pulled to 34-30 with 0:22 remaining, then Belgium make two clutch free throws to widen their lead to 36-30 with 0:16 to go.

Singh sunk a basket to draw Canada back into the four-point range with just 0:06 remaining on the clock. Williams drew a foul and made up a point with his free throws, but in the end Belgium prevailed 39-33 to win bronze. After leaving everything on the court, after saluting their opponents and fans, Team Canada came together emotionally in the dressing room.

Hardworking North Vancouver athlete Sangeon Yoo, the epitome of sportsmanship and determination, delivered inspirational words to his teammates to crystallize the moment.

“We fought hard, we played hard,” Head Coach Zak Klein said Yoo told the team.

All the athletes played their hearts out throughout all of the games and all had exceptional moments, including a highlight performance by Vancouver’s Nicholas Bobek in the tough loss against the Republic of Korea where he was “a machine out there,” Klein said, delivering layups and blocks aplenty and sprinting the length of the court to run down an opponent and block a shot.

The Special Olympics Team Canada basketball players from Vancouver, North Vancouver, Langley, and Campbell River, B.C., put forward an absolutely valiant effort in the bronze-medal game and in the World Games tournament on the whole, and made Canada proud with their strength and spirit.

Soccer: bronze-medal game vs. Argentina

The story of the tournament for the Special Olympics Team Canada soccer squad was how they truly came together and played as a team, and how they always gave their very best efforts. Their July 31 bronze-medal match against Argentina was no exception, as they had to rebound from a tough 1-1 tie against Australia that kept them out of the gold-medal game.

While their opponents were able to go ahead 1-0 in the first five minutes, capitalizing on a brief breakdown by chipping in a goal, Canada bounced back to tie the score 1-1 with a pretty goal by Coquitlam’s Adam Advocaat. Advocaat was also the goalscorer in the tie against Australia the day before.

Strong team play and typically terrific netminding by Mitchell Howell kept the Canadian hopes alive. “He always keeps us in the game,” Head Coach John Scholtes said of Howell. But in the second half, a corner and an ensuing fluke bounce sent the opposition up 2-1, allowing them to clinch the bronze.

“We had a pretty good game,” Scholtes said. “We’ve been really working as a team. We’ve really pulled together.”

This team of athletes from Mission, Abbotsford, Coquitlam, and Victoria, B.C., was not expected to make it this far, Scholtes said, so getting all the way to the World Games was a joy. They were hungry to play for gold and really wanted the win against Australia that would have sent them there. But they gave their all in every game and delivered performances to be proud of.

“They’ve had a blast, and they did the best they could,” Scholtes said of his team. “I’m proud of the guys. Maybe next time we’ll do it again. … But just to be here is fantastic.”

Softball: bronze-medal game vs. Mexico

Out on the Easton Stadium diamond at UCLA, the Special Olympics Team Canada softball team was in fine form as they took on Mexico in their bronze-medal match on August 1. The core of the team is comprised of members of the SOBC – Kelowna Grizzlies softball team, and many of these team members have previous experience with pivotal World Games moments.

Head Coach Lorena Mead and athletes James Blacke, David Scott and Ryan Courtemanche have been with the team for more than 25 years and won gold at the World Games in North Carolina as well as silver in Athens 2011. Coaches Ian Olive and Dennis Richardson and several other players have been with the team for many years too, and were part of the silver-medal-winning squad in 2011.

In Los Angeles, the Grizzlies were able to rebound from a disappointing loss that kept them out of the gold-medal game and were hungry for bronze. After dropping three runs in the top of the first, Team Canada rebounded to score two, with a home run by Comox Valley’s Brad Hogan cashing in Kelowna’s Chris Harrington so they got out of the first down 3-2.

Strong defensive play stymied Mexico’s chances through early innings and then Harrington came to the plate with bases loaded and put Team Canada up by one with his single.

Kelowna’s Richard Gillis crushed a solo homer to put the Canadians up 5-2, but Mexico replied with a home run that brought in two runners, tying the game at five. Then the Team Canada bats lit up again at just the right time, scoring three with time running out and Mexico had no answer. The Grizzlies closed out the 8-5 win for Canada to earn bronze.

Jake Macfarlane, one of the team’s youngest players, was bursting with joy after the Grizzlies headed off the field, celebrating all the way.

“I’m so proud of you guys right now,” Macfarlane yelled to his teammates. “We started out down and we came back and won!”

Courtemanche said winning World Games bronze completes the set for him and his fellow longtime Grizzlies.

Courtemanche said the bronze-medal win felt “fantastic. What a way to finish the year. Now I’ve got all three colours [of World Games medals]. And I’m getting married in six days!”

Watch the Grizzlies pre-Games video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kof2UatObeY

Bocce: doubles play wrap-up

The bocce doubles team of Margaret Burnell and Kevin Ellis of Penticton, B.C., put the finishing touches on Canada’s set of first-ever bocce medals by winning bronze on August 1. This final medal was the cap to a stellar showing by the first Team Canada bocce team, as they also earned three gold medals earned in singles play and bronze in the team event.

After beating Ireland and Costa Rica in their first day of doubles competition, Burnell and Ellis played two exciting games against Panama and Ireland on August 1, but both were defeats, thereby ending their run in the double-knockout tournament.

In the game against Ireland, Ellis and Burnell went down 6-0 before battling back. They narrowed the score to 6-2 then Ellis made a miraculous shot to score four and tie the game at sixes.

“Even the referees said ‘wow,’” Ellis smiled.

The tie score sent them to an extra end where Ireland pulled off the 9-6 win. That and a loss to hot-shooting Panama ended their tournament, and their record earned them an awesome bronze medal, bringing the team’s bocce total to five.

Ellis said the World Games bocce experience was “great” overall and the level of global competition is “superb.”

Penticton’s Chad Conlon and Lynden Hicks finished sixth in doubles play after winning gold each in singles play and bronze with the team.

“It was very exciting to see how we compare against the other countries,” Conlon said.

This is the first time Special Olympics Team Canada has included bocce, basketball, and golf athletes, and they all shone.

Congratulations to the teams and to all the members of Special Olympics Team Canada who achieved the best performance to date by a Canadian national team at World Games, with 144 medals and buckets of personal bests!

Read more Team Canada stories: http://teamcanada.specialolympics.ca/highlights/stories/

Check out Team Canada photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/92082000@N03/albums