After qualifying for the NWBA national championship in its debut season, the Michigan wheelchair basketball team returned to action at the Wolverine Invitational, losing all four of its matchups in a lackluster weekend.
The Wolverines hosted the Detroit Wheelchair Pistons, the Variety Village Rolling Rebel, the Brampton Crashers and the LSWR Hawks at the three-day meet this past weekend at St. Clair County Community College in Port Huron. With the addition of five new players to the roster, Michigan struggled to replicate last year’s dominance.
“You can’t win them all,” Michigan Coach Jessica Wynne said. “But in every game, we grew. … It’s a building block for what we’re going to do next.”
In their first game, the Wolverines were pitted against Brampton. From the opening possession, the absence of team chemistry was evident. The early turnovers and missed defensive rotations allowed the Crashers to convert in transition, and Michigan found itself down by 13 points at the half.
The Wolverines entered the second half with increased defensive intensity, applying full-court pressure on Brampton, but the dominant performances by Crasher guards Puisand Lai and Tamara Steeves led to a comfortable 59-39 Brampton win.
Michigan’s energy was unhindered as it faced LSWR on Saturday. The Wolverines fought for every loose ball and forced turnovers early in the game. While Michigan generated good shots, the momentum shifted in the Hawks’ favor and the team quickly found itself trailing by eight points heading into the half.
The Wolverine offense — led by first-year guard Erik Robeznieks and second-year guard Kevin Konfara — sparked a glimmer of hope late into the game, but they were unable to get stops on the defensive end, ultimately falling to the Hawks 69-54.
With the adrenaline still pumping, Michigan was immediately whisked into its next game against the Variety Village. The Rebels, playing their first game of the tournament, controlled the game from the tipoff. The fatigued Wolverines failed to contain the Variety Village’s offense, struggling to a 57-32 loss.
Regardless of the early losses in the tournament, the team remained optimistic heading into its final game of the weekend against its Division II rival, Detroit Wheelchair.
“Every game we played, we got better,” Konfara said. “Our goal is to just get better each time we get out there.”
The Pistons were the highest-ranked team Michigan encountered in the tournament, and they were up for the challenge. After a grueling and physical game, second-year forward Alex Saleh and Konfara gave the Wolverines their first halftime lead in the tournament.
It appeared as if Michigan was going to have a solid defensive performance, too. The Wolverines showed improved chemistry, trusting each other every possession down and rotating smoothly on defense at the half. After that, however, the remainder of the game was all Detroit. Michigan failed to keep pace with the Pistons’ shooting, ending the tournament on a 61-51 loss.
Although the tournament came to a close early for the Wolverines, its outcome hasn’t shaken the championship aspiration of the team. The community support at the invitational reaffirmed Michigan’s confidence in the U-M Adaptive Sports program.
“The main thing is that we’re making history,” Wynne said. “Everything that we’re doing is something bigger than just basketball.”