Cardinals to Final Four

Charlottesville's best known basketball team might have been knocked out of the running for a national title, but our city still has a chance at hoops glory thanks to the Cardinals, Charlottesville's wheelchair basketball champs. On Friday, for the first time in the local league's 27-year history, its Division II team– the most competitive of its three teams– will compete in the Final Four of the National Wheelchair Basketball League's biggest annual tournament, playing the Dallas "Movin'" Mavericks in Lexington, Kentucky.

"We're optimistic," says Cardinals coach Tom Vandever, who helped found the Cardinals back in 1980 and who runs the Independence Resource Center, an advocacy nonprofit for people with disabilities. Vandever says the Cardinals played Dallas one other time this season and lost, 64 to 61. "We were leading most of that game and lost at end," he says.

The rules of wheelchair basketball are nearly identical to the rules of NCAA Division I teams. Baskets are regulation height, and players sit in special chairs designed for speed and agility with angled wheels, bumpers in front, and extra wheels in the back to prevent tipping. The game is fast-paced with frequent scoring, says Vandever. "At the level of our division II team, it's extraordinarily competitive, and you see some superb athletes," he says. "You see everything except dunks."

Players say they're ready to roll– literally. "We know their key players, what they like to do," says Brandon Rush, 23, who became a paraplegic in 1997 at age 14 after a bike accident. "We're pretty ready to go."

If the Cardinals beat Dallas on Friday, they'll go to the championship match on Saturday against one of two teams: the Arkansas Rolling Razorbacks or the Golden State Road Warriors. That game will be webcast on the National Wheelchair Basketball Association's website.


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