This year's national championships in Vancouver carry with it extra special significance for Canada's goalball hopefuls.
With just over four months left before the 2012 Paralympic Games in London, this weekend's championships, which culminate in the finals at Killarney Secondary School in Vancouver Friday to Sunday, will also serve as a key selection tool for the national team to the Games this summer.
"B.C. is one of the better provinces. Right now we have half the senior team from B.C. There is also one woman on the women's team, plus two others on the development team," said Mike Lonergan, program director for B.C. Bliind Sports and team leader for the 2012 Paralympic team.
New Westminster's Doug Ripley, a top Paralympic sprinter before shifting his focus to goalball, is currently a member of the six-player national men's team along with Ahmad Zeidavi and Brendan Gavlin of Vancouver.
Goalball was developed in 1946 as one method to help rehabilitate war veterans. It became a Paralympic sport in the 1970s and had its debut in Toronto in 1976.
The women's game came onboard at the 1984 Games in New York, where Canada debuted with a second-place finish.
The women's national team has since won four more medals, including back-to-back gold at the 2000 and 2004 Games in Sydney and Athens, respectively.
The best-ever showing for the men's team was a silver medal at the Atlanta Games in 1996.
At the Beijing Games, both the men and women finished in fifth place.
This year's nationals will see Alberta, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia taking part in the team trials.
The object of the game is to score into a gaping nine-metre net while blindfolded players rely on their hearing to help them block the ball, which is implanted with two bells for orientation purposes.
"It's throwing and blocking and the speed of the game," said Lonergan. "The court is 18 metres long so players don't have much time to track the ball."
With throwers hurling the weighted 1.25 kilogram ball to minimize its bounce, blockers must orient themselves on the floor using stringed court lines.
The speed of the game has also raised the level of fitness in today's players, said Lonergan.
Players have just 10 seconds to throw the ball, which can reach speeds of 70 kilometres per hour in the men's game.
An average number of saves per game runs into the 70s while game scores seldom reach double figures, Lonergan added.
"It can be very exhausting," he said. "A good thrower is what every team wants. It's a benefit."
Hosting the nationals will be a great opportunity to send a message to the visually impaired community about what activities are out there, Lonergan said.
"It shows blind athletes here that they have a chnce to take part in a sport - a competitive sport - that can take them to any level they want to go," he said.
The championships run all day April 20 to 22.