Slam dunk for the Vaal River Lions

In the nail-biting final of the 2018 SuperSport Wheelchair Basketball Series, the Vaal River Lions were able to secure their victory in the last moments. MARISKA MORRIS reports

The earth shakes as the players drill the ball from one side of the court to the other. The noise of the crowd is deafening as they clap, stamp and cheer their team on. The Mandeville Indoor Sports Centre is packed and the atmosphere electric. It is the final of the 2018 SuperSport Wheelchair Basketball Series (SSWBS) and the Lions are facing off with the Wolverines. 

In April, eight South African wheelchair basketball teams competed to qualify for one of the six spots in the SSWBS. The Series officially started in May and on Saturday, September 8, the final took place. SuperSport has been supporting wheelchair basketball for 22 years and broadcast the finals. Other sponsors included Vodacom, Nedbank and Sasol.

The Wolverines were the overwhelming favourites for the match, as they had been unbeaten for the entire season.

After the players were introduced and the national anthem was sung, the match began.

The Lions started strongly, but the Wolverines stayed on their heels. The teams flew across the court, skilfully twisting their wheelchairs to prevent the opposition from intercepting the ball.

A star on the court was Simanga Mbhele, who scored the majority of the Lion’s goals in the match (23 points). He just flicked his wrist to shoot the ball through the hoop. The net made a quiet swoosh before the crowd roared with approval.

While the game was mostly clean, a few players were bumped over or tripped. There was, however, no lack of sportsmanship. Players from both teams came to the aid of any fallen player, who would grab onto team members (or opposition) and in one deft movement bring his chair underneath himself and play on.

The Lions dominated much of the game, leading 50 – 34 going into the fourth and final quarter of the match. However, it wasn’t long before the Wolverines caught up. For a tense few moments, both sides of the court were in chaos as the teams battled for victory, to the noisy delight of the crowd.

In the last moments, the Lions secured victory with some swift goals, winning 61 – 57. The accuracy of their shooters was undoubtedly what set them apart in this difficult match. Rakgatsing Molete, Shane Williams and Cecil Dumond, along with Mbhele, secured the victory.

After the match, prizes and trophies were handed out to the players and staff who’d supported the Series. Molete was named man of the match and Lydia Dumond was awarded coach of the Series. Marius Koenig, team manager for the Lions, was also recognised for his 42 years of service to wheelchair basketball.

Of the Lions’ win, Koenig said: “The team is over the moon with what they have achieved. The win has certainly lifted their expectations.” He added that the team would only get a short week of rest before heading to Durban for the South African Senior Wheelchair Basketball Championships.

Captain for the Lions, Cecil Dumond, is also captain of the Amawheelaboys, the national team preparing for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Qualifiers.

If you are interested in watching wheelchair basketball or would like to take up the sport, you can visit the Wheelchair Basketball South Africa (WBSA) website at www.basketball.co.za. Wheelchair basketball was introduced in South Africa in 1970 and caters for individuals with a variety of mobility impairments, from amputees to paraplegics and quadriplegics.

It is a high-impact, high-paced sport that requires plenty of skill and speed. However, it’s also the perfect sport to keep you fit and active, while allowing you to socialise and build friendships that will last a lifetime!

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