Though it's proven in the past that adversity tends to strengthen its resolve, the Phoenix Heat Quadriplegic Rugby team ("Murderball," Susy Buchanan, February 28) found no glory in taking second at the national finals two weeks ago.
At the United States Quadriplegic Rugby National Championship Tournament, held at Metro State College in Denver, Colorado, April 12-14, the Heat played with more guts, skill and unity than it had all season, which did not go unnoticed by its peers. Several Heat players won awards for their performance on the court, but that came as no consolation for finishing second overall, behind the defending national champs, the Alabama-based Lakeshore Demolition.
Buoyed by a 26-23 win against archrivals the Texas Stampede early in the tournament, the Heat played most of the final game against Lakeshore looking as if victory were theirs. Throughout the first half, Phoenix successfully held Lakeshore in check, matching the team point for point and forcing the Demolition to play by its rules. But the Heat's confidence during the first half of the game faltered when a pair of errors in the third quarter gave Lakeshore a two-point lead. Although Phoenix struggled to contain its opponents in the final minutes of the game, Lakeshore took the national championship, 27-24.
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Television cameras swarmed around triumphant Lakeshore at the end of the game, while a lone photographer snapped a photo of Heat star player Mike Gilliland and defensive player Andy Cohn at the other end of the gym, inconsolable, heads buried in their hands.
The errors haunted them as they endured the awards ceremony in which Cohn and defensive player Jason Curran were named the best players of the tournament in their positions, and Gilliland was named most valuable player. Cohn was further honored as Athlete of the Year for the season, but he sat unsmiling through the applause.
Gilliland was just as inconsolable. "I'm gonna throw it in the river," he said of his MVP platter in the moments after the game, when the loss weighed heaviest. Team captain Scott Hogsett, meanwhile, buried his head in his lap, oblivious to the congratulatory remarks offered by players and spectators.
Cohn and Gilliland will now set their sights on the world championships, where they'll compete on the U.S. Paralympic Team in Sweden this May. But for teammates Curran, Hogsett, Brad Wemhaner, Troye Collins and Tommy Kiddle, quad rugby season is over until next fall.