360 Phoenix Heat captures 2017 national wheelchair rugby title

The unbeaten 360 Phoenix Heat overcame a sluggish start and a neck-and-neck battle with the Minnesota Steelheads of Golden Valley, Minn. to secure a 55-51 win and the team’s third United States Quad Rugby Association  Division I national championship at the 2017 USQRA National Tournament at Ability360 Sports & Fitness Center.

The Lakeshore Demolition of Birmingham, Ala. capped a 5-0 record in the Division II championship series with a 54-46 win against the Portland Pounders.

The 360 Phoenix Heat also built a 5-0 tournament record to complete an unblemished 32-0 mark in 2017. The tournament was presented by Vantage Mobility International, one of the nation’s largest manufacturers of wheelchair van conversions.

“We have a lot of good, dedicated players on our team,” said 360 Phoenix Heat player-coach Scott Hogsett after the team’s third national championship win in the last four years.  “Their commitment is proven in the way they train.  We practice three days a week during the season.  They show up, work hard and know what they’re doing. And it showed in the championship game when we came out a bit sluggish.”

The 360 Phoenix Heat and Minnesota Steelheads gave the capacity crowd all it could have hoped for in a hard-banging, nip-and-tuck battle with no more than two points separating the teams through most of the first three quarters.

“We were close to blowing it open several times, but we couldn’t get it done,” Mr. Hogsett said. “But we stuck to our game plan and managed the clock at the end of the third quarter to give us the last goal and we had possession of the ball going into the fourth.”

With 14 seconds left on the game clock, eight seconds on the shot clock and the score tied at 40, Coach Hogsett called a time out, which reset the shot clock to 15 seconds and allowed veteran Joe Delagrve to score on a pass from Jim Roberts with two seconds remaining for a 41-40 lead.  The Roberts-to-Delagrave combination scored the first goal of the fourth quarter, and after Minnesota followed up with a score of its own, Roberts and Delagrave teamed up to take a 43-41 advantage.’

Minnesota was able to get as close as one point on several occasions, but with the score at 49-47, Roberts denied a Minnesota goal at the goal line and Phoenix responded with an Ernie Chunn goal followed by a Delagrave steal-and-score for a 51-47 lead the team never relinquished.

“The hardest thing to do is to win a game you’re supposed to win,” Coach Hogsett said.  “Playing at home is very hard, and when you’re favored, it creates a lot of undue pressure.  But we’ve got a great system and really smart players and when it comes to a championship game, training and conditioning are the key.

“Plus we had a great crowd in the building and the fans really got us through it,” he said.  “I’ve never seen the court so full and I’ve got to say that Ability360 really made this tournament special.”

After the game, Mr. Hogsett told the team that next season he would spend more time coaching and less playing, moving Joe Jackson into the starting lineup.  Jackson, Delagrave and Chunn will head for Japan in May as part of the USA National Team.  The rest of the 360 Phoenix Heat is off until the start of next season in October.

“The tournament was awesome,” Coach Hogsett said.  “It was better than I could have ever imaged.”

For more information about the USQRA, visit www.usqra.org.  For more information about Ability360, visit www.ability360.org.

The Ability360 Sports and Fitness Center is a 45,000-square foot, state-of-the-art facility located in Phoenix, Arizona. Owned and operated by Ability360, the Sports & Fitness Center offers a wide variety of amenities to help you achieve your health and fitness goals including a fitness center with wheelchair accessible weight machines, an aquatic area equipped with lifts and elevators, accessible locker rooms, and more.

Ability360 is located at 5025 E. Washington St., Ste. 200, Phoenix, AZ 85034, www.ability360.org, 602-256-2245.

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