“It was great to see the team grow in 10 months so they knew how to work together and when you want to win a medal you must play as a team, on court but also off the court.”
The Netherlands’ women’s wheelchair basketball team became a force to be reckoned with when they won their first Paralympic medal since 1996 last year at the London Paralympics.
The women in orange lost by just three points in a closely contested semi-final against their German rivals, but then claimed the bronze comfortably against the USA.
The Netherlands have actually gone head-to-head with Germany in every final of the European Championships since 1989, with Germany grabbing the gold in the last six meetings.
However, many of the Dutch believe the reigning European and Paralympic champion Germans are not necessarily everyone’s pick to win the IWBF European Wheelchair Basketball Championships, which take place from 28 June – 7 July in Frankfurt, Germany.
“We can beat the German team,” said Mariska Beijer, who was one of the top Dutch scorers at the London 2012 games, averaging 23 points per game.
“The result of the three-point loss shows the quality of our teams. We are so close to each other that it is always an exciting game to play and watch.
“I think we really stood out there as a team and we all knew what we needed to do on the court. This is what made us so strong. We were done with the underdog position and snatched a medal away from the settled countries such as USA, Canada, Germany and Australia.
“It was such an awesome feeling to get the bronze medal. It really felt like gold.”
Power duo in orange
Luckily for the Beijer and the Netherlands, they won’t have to face Germany in the group stage in Frankfurt, as they’ve been placed in Group B with Great Britain, Italy and Turkey.
Inge Huitzing will join Beijer as a key part of the Dutch squad, having experience playing for the able-bodied national team as well as the wheelchair team.
She, too, though, has her eyes focused on getting revenge on the Germans.
“I really don’t think they are unbeatable,” said Huitzing.
“We didn’t start the Paralympic semi-final game very well and we were 10-0 down or something. After that, our press started working and they were not communicating very well so it was too bad for us that there was a halftime break.
“I think that could be one of our weapons against them but that is not all we have.”
A veteran at the reigns
The Netherlands are coached by former Paralympian Gertjan van der Linden, who has won many Paralympic and World Championship medals, including Paralympic gold at the Barcelona 1992 Games.
Van der Linden expressed the importance of improvement as they build toward their target of going for gold at the Rio 2016 Games.
“Together with my staff we did an excellent job to make a team of them,” said the three-time Paralympic medallist.
“It was great to see the team grow in 10 months so they knew how to work together and when you want to win a medal you must play as a team, on court but also off the court.
“The key to winning is all players working together for each other. For me, as a coach I am so lucky and happy to work with them together.
“Our next step is Rio and over there we want to win a medal again but it must be a different colour.”