It has only happened a handful of times in the history of Washington state – a local team soaring to a championship in a national competition.
The Seattle Supersonics brought home an NBA title in 1979 while their WNBA counterparts – the Storm – won crowns in 2004 and 2010. In 1991, the Washington Huskies captured a national title after defeating Michigan in the Rose Bowl.
You can now add the Team St. Luke’s Tornadoes from Spokane to that prestigious list.
The squad of eight – hailing from all parts of Eastern Washington, including Spokane Valley, Cheney, the Tri-Cities and Rathdrum – nipped Grand Rapids of Michigan 50-45 in the final game of the 2012 National Wheelchair Basketball Association Junior Division Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo., on March 24.
Spokane Valley representatives on the team include Amberlynn Weber from Central Valley High School; Mikila Salazar, of West Valley High School and Josh Brewer from University High School.
Brewer, a triple amputee who scored 15 points in the title game and was named to the all-tournament team, said the experience of being called a “national champion” has been “pretty awesome.”
“We played really well together as a team,” he said. “Everyone believed we could do this.”
Team St. Luke’s is an adaptive sports and recreation program for local residents with physical disabilities. The program participates in a number of regional, national and international events each year in sports like track and field, swimming and basketball.
Tomie Zuchetto, coach of the Team St. Luke’s junior team, said the squad “really started to gel” about a month-and-a-half ago. The club qualified for nationals at sectional tournament in Phoenix. A total of 16 teams participated in Colorado Springs.
“We really stepped it up a notch in this tournament,” Zuchetto said. “Our defense was exceptional. I’m just really proud of this team.”
After a 31-point win to start the tournament on March 22, the Tornadoes faced a tough squad from Minnesota in a second round game, emerging with a narrow 38-34 win.
Up next were the Hoosiers from Indiana. In a game that went back and forth for four quarters and eventually was decided in overtime, Team St. Luke’s advanced to the title game with a 52-45 victory.
“We knew it was going to be a really tough game,” said Weber, a senior at CV who represented Team USA at the International Paralympic World Championships in New Zealand last year. “We just had a lot of determination because we knew if we won it meant playing for the championship.”
In the final game on March 24, the Tornadoes’ full-court press accounted for the difference in a 40-35 win. After a season that began in October and included a travel schedule of games in California, Oregon, Utah, Seattle and Arizona, the squad from Spokane could say they were the nation’s best.
“It really helps your confidence knowing that all that work paid off,” said Salazar, a sophomore at West Valley who has won the last two state wheelchair cross-country titles.
Weber, who will attend the University of Illinois next year on an athletic scholarship, said teamwork was the key to the crown.
Brewer said the keys to the victory included “giving 110-percent on the court” and communicating as a team.
“You have to have the right attitude,” he said. “You’re not the only one out there on the court. It helps to talk and work with your teammates.”
Other members of the title squad include Chelsea McClammer, Will Robbins, Kelsie Christensen, Kyle Bocook and Isaiah Rigo. Many of the same players on the participate in Hoopfest each summer.
“I definitely thought we had a chance because we’ve been working real well together as a team,” she said.
Brewer said the experience of participating with Team St. Luke’s has meant success beyond the national championship.
“It’s helped me overcome a lot of my fears,” he said. “It’s awesome to have people who care about you. I believe in myself now.”
Want to learn more?
To learn more about Team St. Luke’s call Nicole Stewart at 232-8131 or visit www.st-lukes.org.