Three members of the Sydney Uni Flames Wheelchair Basketball team which recently claimed the 2019 National League title have their sights set on selection in the 12-player squad for the 2020 Summer Paralympic Games in Tokyo.
Hannah Dodd, Annabelle Lindsay and Sarah Stewart are in contention for selection in the Gliders, although Sarah has to overcome a hand injury to push for a fourth Paralympic Games.
The trio were integral in the Wheelchair Flames securing
the WNWBL Championship, with Lindsay being named Most Valuable Player of the Finals series, while Dodd won the one- pointer MVP for the 2019 season and was named in the 2019 season All-Star Five.
However Stewart admitted the title didn’t come easy for the Flames. In the first game of the finals weekend against competition leaders Perth, Lindsay posted a double-double of 25 points and 10 rebounds, while Brodie Palmer scored 11 points and eight rebounds and Liesl Tesch had four points and 10 rebounds. Dodd posted eight points and Stephanie Van Leeuwen contributed four points.
The scores were level at half-time and three-quarter time, but Perth pulled away with two extra baskets in the final quarter.
Having finished the second in the competition proper, the Flames had a second run at the title and didn’t waste the chance, accounting for Sydney Metro Blues 66-46 in the preliminary final on Saturday.
Lindsay led all scorers in the game with a double-double of 30 points, 14 rebounds and six assists, Palmer scored 14 points, Dodd had 12 points and five assists, and van Leeuwen had six points, five rebounds and four assists.
The win put the Flames into the gold medal Sunday game and, again, they seized the moment and came away 55-50 winners.
Stewart said it was a great team effort on and off the bench, including some clutch free-throws from Lindsay to secure the win in the last seconds of the game.
“Annabelle top-scored for us in the game with a double-double of 25 points and 14 rebounds, while Hannah had 12 points and four rebounds,” Stewart said.
“We also had solid contributions from Stephanie with six points and four rebounds, Brodie with two points, Tracey Carruthers with two points and Liesl Tesch with eight points, five rebounds and 11 assists. What a weekend!”
It was a busy day for Dodd. She also won gold with her team, the Wollongong Rollerhawks, in the NWBL Championship immediately after the Flames’ title. (The WNWBL and NWBL finals were played at the same venue.)
And, to top off a great season, Wheelchair Flames head coach Alan Cox was also named WNWBL Coach of the Year.
While a hand injury kept Stewart out of the finals, her efforts through the season as Manager and Assistant Coach were instrumental in getting the Flames into second position. And she’s no stranger to WNWBL titles having won the 2008 and 2009 championships with the Hills Hornets before being instrumental in linking them with the inaugural Sydney Uni Wheelchair Flames who duly won the 2010 title.
The Club President is philosophical about making a fourth Paralympic Games, having won a silver in Athens in 2004, bronze in Beijing in 2008, and silver in London in 2012. The Gliders didn’t qualify for the 2016 Games.
“In the lead up to WNWBL 2020 and the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games, we have a few smaller competitions around Australia to prepare for the Games,” she said. “There’s the Sunny Coast tournament in January and the HERSport Women’s Festival of Basketball in February. And the 2020 WNWBL will be held from March to June leading up to the Tokyo Paralympic Games.
“My injury is quite serious, so it will be tough to make the 12-player squad. But Annabelle and Hannah are definitely performing well and on the selection radar.”
Lindsay made her Australian debut with the Gliders at the Osaka Cup in 2017 after being named the WNWBL’s Best New Talent in 2016 and moving from the Canberra Chargers to the Sydney Uni Flames. A graduate of the University of Canberra with a teaching degree in Physical Education, she has been awarded a four-year scholarship at the University of Texas at Arlington to study for her Masters and play basketball.
Lindsay was a member of the Australian Under 25 team, the Devils, who won silver at this year’s World Championship in Suphanburi, Thailand.
Dodd has already competed at a Summer Paralympic Games – as a para-equestrian at the 2012 London Games.
Her journey to London started in 2008 when she won the Australian national Grade IV para-equestrian championship. She was runner-up in 2009, and won the Australian championship again in 2011 before being selected for the London Games.
Dodd then switched to wheelchair basketball and made her Australian debut with the Under 25s at the 2015 Osaka Cup. “My first sport was equestrian which I competed in at an elite level since I was 12,” she says in her profile. “I competed in London Paralympics for equestrian before being recruited to wheelchair basketball. Due to expenses and my deteriorating function, equestrian was becoming harder and harder for me to stay competitive.
“Having an outlet to stay in elite sport was an amazing opportunity and I’m grateful for it every day. I love the speed and the intensity of the game, all the tactics and being able to play a team sport.”
The Paralympic dream burns deep for this trio. After all, the Flames are on fire.