Daily photo by Michael Wetzel|
East Limestone High graduate Erica Moyers, left, gets instructions from University of Alabama coaches Brent Hardin, center, and Margaret Stran during the 20th annual Pioneer Classic at Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham on Jan. 12.
E. Limestone grad helps Tide roll
Wheelchair hoops team, Moyers enjoying success
By Michael Wetzel
When East Limestone High graduate Erica Moyers yells “Roll Tide,” she literally means roll.
Moyers, a 20-year-old sophomore at The University of Alabama, has helped the school’s women’s wheelchair basketball team to a fifth-place national ranking in the National Wheelchair Basketball Association this season.
After her team’s championship title in the 20th annual Pioneer Classic at the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham last week, the Athens native said the Tide squad has upped its lofty goals for the season.
In the tournament’s finals, Alabama defeated defending national champion Illinois 46-41. Moyers tossed in nine points in the championship game of the oldest and largest wheelchair basketball tournament in the United States.
“Winning that tournament was probably the biggest win in the team’s history,” Moyers said. “It was their first loss in two years. They beat us earlier in the tournament (48-36). We played the same defense and the same offense in the finals. We just stuck our shots.
“The University of Illinois is the pinnacle of wheelchair sports. Their program is 30 years old; ours is four. The next time we play Illinois they may be a little more leery of us.”
On the horizon for the Tide’s club sport team (17-5) is a tourney in Las Vegas on Friday before the national championship tournament in Warm Springs, Ga., the following month.
“When we go to Vegas, coach (UA Disabled Services Director Brent Hardin) told us to be all ball until after the tournament,” Moyers said. “He told us to forget about the fancy lights and shows and focus on basketball.”
Moyers was introduced to disabled sports after she lost her left leg in a church hayride accident in Athens on Oct. 28, 2000. She was 13.
Moyers became involved in the sports programs at the Lakeshore Foundation in Birmingham and earned a spot on the U.S. Paralympic Volleyball team, which brought home a bronze medal from the 2004 Paralympic Games in Athens, Greece.
Lakeshore Foundation’s strength and conditioning specialist and junior basketball coach Heather Pennington remembers when Moyers visited Lakeshore for the first time about four years ago.
“Erica is such a natural and gifted athlete,” Pennington said Saturday. “Chair skills you can teach, but some of the other skills stuff she was born with. Her getting in the chair showed us her competitive spirit and her desire to play. The wheelchair levels the playing field for many with disabilities.”
Pennington said it makes her smile to see Moyers’ progress as a wheelchair player.
“Her confidence level, shooting and intensity on the court is so much better,” Pennington said. “It was a thrill to see her face light up when she was telling me about Alabama’s win over Illinois last week. We’re so proud of her hard work and positive attitude.”
Moyers walks with a prosthetic leg and proudly sports a Crimson Tide logo on it. She said she’s in a wheelchair only when she suits up for basketball team, which practices two hours a day, five days a week.
She joined the Tide team when the university started the program four years ago. She was a junior at East Limestone.
“We didn’t do well that first year,” Moyers said, “but we were young and we’ve added some better, experienced players.”
Moyers started as a college freshman and now finds herself in a reserve role.
In the Pioneer Classic, she was the first off the bench ina 59-39 win over the Dallas Lady Mavericks on Jan. 12.
“Erica always gives us good minutes when she is on the court,” said Margaret Stran, head coach of Alabama. “She is an excellent shooter, and she has really stepped up her defense this year.
“It has been fun to watch her growth and development as a player. She is starting to take a bigger role as a team leader, too. I believe she is more comfortable now with her game.”
Erica laughed at the notion she’s a bruiser on the court.
“I’m really nice and passive, but when I get on the court, I get aggressive. But, yes, I’m usually the enforcer out there under the basket,” she said.
Her play caught the eye of Paralympic gold medalist Pam Fontaine of the Lady Mavericks.
“She came in and gave them solid minutes,” Fontaine said. “She put some points on the board that really hurt us.”
An honors student majoring in English, Moyers said the biggest misconception about wheelchair basketball is that it is easy and slow-paced.
“But actually, there’s a lot of chair contact,” she said. “It’s rough out there. Some teams play dirty, and some players know how to flip you. ... Once someone comes out to watch just one game, they get hooked.”
A regular at home games and nearby road games is her mom, Tammy.
“She loves basketball, and this UA program is perfect for her,” Tammy Moyers said. “I don’t worry about her getting hurt playing this. Just as long as she doesn’t play wheelchair rugby.”
Other than the chairs, Moyers said, the game is not much different from the sport for able-bodied athletes.
“Pick and rolls are different,” she said. “It’s not easy getting around a big chair, but strategy-wise it is the same. If you are on defense, it’s your job to keep the ball out of the hoop, and on offense, you are trying to put it in.”
Moyers said she is continually working on improving her speed.
“When I started playing, I couldn’t push very well,” she said. “It took me too long to get up and down the court. I’ve cut my time.
“I was doing down-and-back drills in 50 seconds. Now, I am at about 42 seconds. I am working on it. Some of our players can do it in about 37 or 38 seconds.”
She added the wheelchair dribble rules also took some time to master.
Moyers is a Class III wheelchair basketball player, and Class III players are the ones with the most mobility. Most amputees fit into this class.
Wheelchair basketball teams are limited to five players totaling no more than 12 class points on the court. Therefore, no team can have more than three Class III players in action at the same time. Class III count as three points, Class II as two, and Class I as one.
The penalty for going over the player-point limit — a technical foul on the offending team.
At the conclusion of last year’s 17-15 season, Moyers received the team’s hustle and attitude award. In 2004-2005, she earned most improved player honors.
As a wheelchair athlete at Alabama, Moyers said she receives financial aid from the school for her skills and has additional funding from academic scholarships and sponsors like the Alabama Baptist Foundation and Fourroux Orthotics and Prosthetics in Huntsville.
After graduation from college, Moyers said she would like to write a novel and teach English, but before then, she wants to keep the Tide rolling toward a national championship.
Erica Moyers at a glance
Team/sport: University of Alabama Wheelchair Basketball
High school: East Limestone graduate
High-point game: 22 points vs. Rehab Institute of Chicago
Rebounds: Averaging 13 a game
Free throw percentage: 65 to 70 percent
Favorite shot: layup
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