The 2017 IWBF Asia Oceania Championships will take place from October 23<rd to October 28th at the Chinese Paralympic training venue in Beijing.
In the women’s tournament, four teams will compete; Australia, China, Iran and Japan.
Ahead of the tournament, IWBF junior writer Dylan Cummings talked with Australia’s Leanne Del Toso about Australia’s preparations for the competition.
Del Toso has had hereditary, sensory and motor neuropathy since the age of 19. In 2006, she was working at a gym and saw an Australian Paralympic committee flyer on the wall that said: “Are you the next Paralympian?” She called the number on the flyer and went to a Paralympic talent search day. The event organisers suggested that she would be best suited for wheelchair basketball due to her experience playing able-bodied basketball before acquiring her disability.
In her words, wheelchair basketball “changed my world.”
The 3.5 classified player is a proud native of Melbourne, Victoria and has always played for a Victorian team in the Women’s National League, starting off with Knox Raiders, then the Dandenong Rangers, and currently the Kilsyth Cobras.
Leanne is a veteran of the Australian team as she has been involved with the programme for 10 years. She made her international debut in 2009 at the Osaka Cup in Japan and has represented the Australian women’s team at every major tournament since then.
The 37-year-old talked about how the team has been preparing for the upcoming Championships saying: “We’re changing our outlook as we want to run different and new line-ups. People have worked on their overall individual game and we have bonded more as a team as half the squad is still relatively new to the programme.”
Due to the size of Australia, the logistics of getting the whole squad together can be difficult, however Leanne explained, “The team has been training as a whole more frequently over the last few months, it’s been our focus to come together as a team to scrimmage and get essential game time.
“It is beneficial for the team as it gives us as much game experience as possible in the lead up to the championships.”
Del Toso and her fellow team mates were heartbroken after not qualifying for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games, however that is what has been motivating them going into the Championships.
She said, “Our hope is to come home from Beijing as Asia Oceania Champions.
“The team is heading into the competition with a lot of confidence and we hope the team will dominate the competition and leave the tournament with the same confidence, looking forward to the World Championships.”
She continued by saying “It means everything for Australia to compete in the Asia Oceania Championships, to be the best in our zone is something that we are all very proud of. We have always been competitive, strong and successful meaning we have made a name for ourselves. However, we don’t take this for granted as we always want to build on our successes.”
In the Australian team there is a mix of experience and youth, Del Toso revealed that Annabelle Lindsay, Amber Merritt, Cobi Crispin and Georgia Munro-Cook will be the ones to watch for in the future of the women’s national team.
Listing her greatest achievement in wheelchair basketball as being fortunate enough to be part of the Australian team that won a silver medal at London 2012, Leanne explained how much playing for her country means to her, “I don’t take my position for granted. Every time I put on the green and gold vest for Australia I always appreciate the time I spend representing my country.”
Written by Dylan Cummings – Twitter: @DylanOnWheels