Local women named to national wheelchair basketball squad Molly Welfle and Shelby Gruss started their careers at Turnstone.
Despite being a player who is known for her anticipation and ability to predict what opponents are going to try next, Molly Welfle never saw it coming last week when she was named to the United States Women’s Wheelchair Basketball National team.
But there’s a good reason for that. While going for a layup during the second day of three practices in Colorado Springs, she suffered a concussion when she was tripped up from behind. She basically took part in only two of the six practices.
“It caused me to spin around and and all of my wheels were in the air and I face-planted and ended up rolling and hitting my head twice,” Welfle said. “That’s the hardest hit I’ve ever taken on a basketball court. After that, I just assumed they weren’t going to take me.”
Welfle, a freshman at the University of Texas-Arlington and a former North Side student, was one of 16 players to make the team which will be pared to 12 in time for the America’s Zonal Qualifier this summer in Columbia. Bishop Luers graduate and University of Illinois player Shelby Gruss was also selected from among the 29 players who tried out. The team must finish in the top four at the zonal tournament to qualify for the 2018 World Championships in Hamburg, Germany.
What’s even more ironic is that Welfle, didn’t really care for basketball at an early age. She often got dragged along to watch older sister Nina practice at Turnstone, and started playing at age 6. She lost her left leg below the knee and is missing her pointer, middle and ring fingers on both hands due to birth defects.
“She didn’t want anything to do with basketball,” said Turnstone coach Bob Burnsworth. “She just wasn’t into it, but she got very competitive when she was in junior high. She’s a spitfire. She hasn’t let her disability slow her down.”
Welfle is also a player who thrives on helping everyone around her improve and work on their game. She shares the ball with everyone and makes sure everyone is involved in the play. She also has the ability to strike up a conversation with anyone no matter their age or where they come from.
“I wanted to be outside running around,” Welfle said. “I wanted to be on my bike and eventually I learned I could do so much more in a chair.”
Gruss, a graduate student at Illinois, was paralyzed during a snowboarding accident her senior year at Bishop Luers in 2010. Because of their age differences, she has never played with Welfle in an organized game, but they’ll get their chance this spring.
This was the fourth and likely final tryout with the national team for Gruss, 25.
“I thought I had a really good chance this time,” she said. “I just felt really good throughout the entire tryout. My defense was good, my shooting wasn’t the best, but I thought overall I played very well. If I hadn’t made it this time, I probably would have given up.”
Gruss will graduate in May and is applying to a school in Florida to work on her doctorate. <br>
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