Salmo’s Haley Olinyk and the Canadian Junior girls goalball team are world champions, after mining gold last week in Colorado Springs, Col., at the IBSA World Junior Goalball Championship.
Olinyk helped the girls national team to a thrilling come-from-behind 4-3 victory over the number 1 ranked Team U.S.A. in the final on July 31.
“I was shocked, I was like ‘Oh my God’,” said Olinyk. “That was the first gold medal that Canada has won at the Junior World championships, so after I learned that, I was like, ‘No way’.”
The 14-year-old Salmo Secondary student practices on the Nelson goalball team, and has been a member of Team B.C. for the past three years. Olinyk was scouted at the nationals by Team Canada scouts and invited to play at this year’s World championship in Colorado.
At the last world championship Canada’s girls team had a disappointing last place finish, so Olinyk was hoping for a stronger performance two years later.
“I was thinking we were going to do better than we did last time . . . but I’ve learned to keep my expectations level, instead of being too high or too low,” she said.
The national junior team opened up its world championship with a 4-4 tie with Germany, before dropping a 3-2 match to the heavily favoured U.S. squad.
The close games boosted the team’s confidence heading into Day 3 of the tournament.
“That was a really good game to start the tournament off with,” said Olinyk, particularly because they played both games on the same day.
Canada then walloped China 8-2, before a convincing 13-3 win over Korea to advance to the semifinal.
Visiting teams already had to deal with Colorado’s mile-high elevation, and, while Olinyk says it was a challenge, some teams fared worse than others.
“I think it’s really just endurance, because I think they (Germany) really spent themselves on the first two days, and they had nothing left for the last two,” said Olinyk.
Germany tied the U.S. 2-2 in the round robin and would face Canada in the semifinal. This time Canada dominated winning 10-2 to advance to the final against the U.S. who had beaten China 6-1 in the other semifinal.
With Canada guaranteed a medal, Olinyk and her teammates went into the final not overly-confident but relaxed.
In a defensive battle, Canada found themselves behind 1-0 at the half, but the team rallied for four second-half goals on their way to the 4-3 victory.
“I was really surprised because, the States, we played them once and lost to them, but it was a close game,” said Olinyk. “Then we played them for gold, and we won, which was great because that game we went in, it was a game where we didn’t have pressure, so we weren’t going to make a bunch of mistakes. We were going to get something either way, so we were happy.”
But rather than a silver lining, Canada’s goalball junior girls are golden for the first time ever at the World Junior Goalball championship.
Olinyk appeared in five of six games, and played a pivotal role in the final match against the U.S. She is also one of the youngest athletes to play for Team B.C. women’s team and is hoping one day to take her game to the highest level.
“I’m hoping to make Team Canada, the senior team that goes to Paralympics and stuff. The summer Paralympics are down in Rio next year, but I know I’m not going to make that, because I’m fairly new, but I am really shooting for 2020 in Tokyo – that would be cool.”
Goalball is a fast-paced Paralympic sport played by the blind and visually impaired on a roughly basketball-sized indoor court. With three members per team, a ball with bells inside is whipped toward the opposing team, who, using only their hearing, try to locate the incoming ball, and lay out across its path to block the shot. Once blocked, the ball is immediately thrown back at the opposite team to try to score.