Team USA takes Bronze in Rugby

Although the United States didn’t repeat as wheelchair rugby champions, Team USA still ended up with a podium performance – earning a bronze medal at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto

By John Groth

Anthony McDaniel, middle, tries to push his way through his opponents during the bronze medal match Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017, at the 2017 Invictus Games. (Photo by Courtney Verrill)

Although the United States didn’t repeat as wheelchair rugby champions, Team USA still ended up with a podium performance – earning a bronze medal at the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto on Thursday evening.

The U.S. defeated Australia 23-18 in the bronze medal match at the Mattamy Centre in Toronto to secure a top-three finish for the third time in three Games.

Team USA won the gold medal in 2016, defeating Denmark 28-19 in Orlando, Fla., and finished with the silver medal, falling 13-12 to the United Kingdom, in the inaugural 2014 Invictus Games.

Team USA and Team Australia tip off at the bronze medal match during the 2017 Invictus Games. (Photo by Courtney Verrill)

“The difference is, I think, from last year is that we didn’t win gold,” said Team USA wheelchair rugby player and Navy veteran Henry Sawyer. “But other than that just the camaraderie, a whole new team and being able to come as a team within a week and to accomplish what we’ve accomplished so far, words can’t explain it.”

Denmark defeated the United Kingdom 23-18 in the gold medal match.

A Paralyzed Veterans of America (PVA) member, Sawyer added sitting discus to his Invictus Games schedule this year and placed fourth in that event, setting a personal best in that event earlier this week with an 11.79-meter (38.68 feet) throw.

“Just helping out the team, anywhere I could be to help out the team to benefit USA, I’m down for it,” said Sawyer, who sustained a C4 incomplete injury Feb. 28, 2010, after making a tackle against an opponent in a semi-pro football game in Melbourne, Fla.

Day six of the Invictus Games featured lots of competition, including archery, wheelchair basketball preliminaries, swimming preliminaries and the wheelchair rugby semifinals and finals. Friday’s events include the archery finals, more wheelchair basketball preliminaries, a para ice hockey demonstration and swimming finals.

In wheelchair rugby, matches lasted a little longer in the semifinals and championship. Instead of playing 10-minute halves like in the preliminaries, teams played 12-minute halves. Team USA only led Australia 10-9 at halftime before Marine Corps veteran Anthony McDaniel led a scoring surge.

Denmark knocked off the United States 32-20 in the second semifinal, taking control five minutes in and building an 18-13 lead at halftime.

The United Kingdom defeated Australia 26-19 in the opening semifinal. The U.K. led 13-9 at halftime before opening up a 20-12 lead with 7 minutes left.

Team USA member and Navy veteran Hector Verela thought Team USA finished strong.

“I’m OK with what we did,” said Varela, an above-the-knee amputee who sustained a knee injury Feb. 4, 2012, in a motorcycle accident in San Diego. “We competed with who we put out there. We played hard. The other countries did the same thing. And it is what it is. I’m proud of my team.”

Varela has had busy days the last couple days. He’s on the U.S. men’s wheelchair basketball team, and helped them to two victories – 35-19 over the Netherlands and 33-5 over Canada on Thursday. He also competed in men’s handcycling and finished ninth in the men’s IHB2 criterium Wednesday (46 minutes, 58 seconds) and fifth in the men’s IHB2 time trial (12:06). Varela likes the wheelchair rugby event.

“The crowds are loud. They’re loud,” Varela said. “The lights are going on in this competition. I think actually the competition is a lot tougher than the first year.”

Team USA features Army veterans Ryan Major, James Pradke and William Reynolds, Special Operations Command veteran Ivan Castro, Navy veterans Nate DeWalt, Sawyer and Varela, Marine Corps veterans Brian Scarbrough, Ivan Sears and McDaniel and Air Force veteran and PVA member Jesse Graham, Tiana Lopez and Jason Caswell.


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