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  • Photos by Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette U.S. women's goalball athlete Eliana Mason blocks a throw by Ukraine in the first period during the 2019 IBSA Goalball & Judo International Qualifier on Thursday at the Schaefer Center on the Indiana Tech campus.  

  • U.S. women’s goalball athlete Amanda Dennis throws the ball in the first period against Ukraine on Thursday.  

  • Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette US Women's Goalball athlete Amanda Dennis blocks a shot from the Ukranian team in the first period during the 2019 IBSA Goalball & Judo International Qualifier held at the Schaefer Center on Thursday.  

  •   Mike Moore | The Journal Gazette US Women's Goalball athletes Marybai Huking, left and Amanda Dennis compete in the first period against Ukranian during the 2019 IBSA Goalball & Judo International Qualifier held at the Schaefer Center on Thursday.  

Friday, July 05, 2019 1:00 am

IBSA goalball qualifier

Experience pays off for US women

ELIZABETH WYMAN | The Journal Gazette

There was no barbecue or fireworks Thursday morning at Schaefer Center, but a 7-4 win for the U.S. women's goalball team over Ukraine in group play of the 2019 International Blind Sports Federation Goalball and Judo International Qualifier provided all the celebration the Americans needed.

“The opportunity to play here, at home, on July Fourth – our birthday – is everything you could ask for out of a sporting event,” coach Jake Czechowski said.

“It's such a wonderful day of honor and a privilege to be an American, so it's really great to be here and playing on the Fourth of July,” said Lisa Czechowski, a longtime member of the U.S. team.

As fireworks thundered through the city, the U.S. has powered through group play, winning 9-2 against Canada and 7-3 over Denmark. The women play Finland at 3:15 p.m. today.

The team is loaded with veteran talent.

Lisa Czechowski and Asya Miller are five-time Paralympians, Amanda Dennis is a two-time Paralympian, Marybai Huking and Eliana Mason have been to one Paralympics and Shavon Lockhardt and Ali Lawson also add a wealth of experience. 

So when faced with adversity for the first time Thursday when Dennis left with a leg injury, the team used its experience to persevere.

“We expected adversity, and our team did what we were supposed to do – we played defense, worked together, communicated and we met our mission,” Lisa Czechowski said. “With all of our previous experience and preparation for these games we were all prepared for adversity because all of these teams are very good teams.”

Jake Czechowski credits that blend of veteran leadership and younger talent for dealing with issues that arise.

“Luckily, we have that blend of veteran leadership, but we also believe in that system we've created as a group to be able to understand that the power of our team is more important than any one individual skill set,” he said. “Because the players are so willing to buy into that we're able to step in, make adjustments, rotations. I'll always substitute players in and out because I believe in all six women that we have on this team.”

With all the decades of Paralympic experience on the roster, Mason seems to be a name that could be on the U.S. roster for years to come.

“Eliana is a perfect example of coming from a great, sport-minded family, and she's a great example of getting an opportunity to really see how good she can be at athletics,” Jake Czechowski said. “Because of the dynamics of goalball vision was never a limitation for her. I often ask players 'how good do you want to be?' And she constantly steps up to that challenge. She wants to be one of the best in the world.”

Mason first started playing goalball when she was 15, training with Miller in Oregon. Now 23, she was part of the Rio 2016 bronze-winning team and the world championship team that won gold in 2014.

A Beaverton, Oregon, native, Mason credits some of her skill to training and learning from the best.

“It is an honor and an incredible experience,” Mason said. “I got to learn under the best, so it was truly a grateful experience to be taught by the best.”

Lisa Czechowski relishes the fact that her younger teammates bring the same intensity that the veterans do.

“She's so athletic, positive and she's always thinking about the team first,” she said of Mason. “I really enjoy playing with her because her mission is the same as mine – she just wants to continue to get better and push herself as far as possible.”

During the Ukraine match, Jake Czechowski yelled out to his team “enjoy the moment.”

“To be in a pressure-filled moment that means you have to get to a point where you've earned that right to be there,” he said. “Pressure is a privilege. Instead of getting overly nervous or worried just enjoy that moment, and the girls really respond well to those situations.”

The team hopes to keep responding with wins – and a spot in the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics.

ewyman@jg.net