Women's Senior National Team

From SkipShot: USA Women Win Second Straight Gold In Rio

The USA Women won their second straight Olympic gold this past Summer in RIo
Nov. 10, 2016

By Matt Szabo - @mjszabo

The United States Olympic Women’s water polo team came to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in search of its second-straight Gold medal.

Team USA left Rio with no doubts about its superiority in the pool.

The U.S. beat Italy, 12-5, in the Gold-medal match Aug. 19 to cap a dominant run to the top of the podium.

The Americans, who also captured Gold in London in 2012, became the first women’s water polo team to repeat as Olympic champions. They outscored their six opponents by a combined score of 73-32, and no game was closer than four goals. Team USA trailed only for 44 seconds during the entire tournament, which was early in the 14-10 semifinal victory over Hungary.

After the Gold-medal match, the players provided a touching moment by each putting their Gold medals around the neck of head coach Adam Krikorian, whose brother Blake passed away shortly before the Olympics began.

Team captain Maggie Steffens, the Olympic leading scorer with 17 goals, earned her second straight Olympics MVP honor. Ashleigh Johnson earned the tournament’s top goalkeeper honors, and Maddie Musselman, who was second on the team with 12 goals scored, was named to the Olympic media all-star team.

“I couldn’t be more proud of the group,” Krikorian said. “The reality is that I am more proud of the way in which we did it, and the way in which we handled ourselves. [It was] the way in which we played the game: the unselfishness, the work ethic, the focus, and the ability to handle some adversity and stick together as a group and rise to the challenge. I couldn’t be more proud of the way the team performed and handled everything.

“We hadn’t really felt the pressure of that environment. We had nine players new to that experience, so that would leave a lot of question marks. But to see how we handled all of that, it really exceeded my expectations, to be completely honest.”

The Team USA players have been treated to a hero’s welcome since returning home, visiting schools to share their story and allow children to see and experience the Gold medals themselves. Courtney Mathewson threw out the first pitch at a Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim game in August, while several team members also were honored at a Dodgers game. A few weeks later, Krikorian threw out the first pitch at a San Francisco Giants game.

The accolades were earned, as it was certainly a dominant run to the title for Team USA, which has medaled at every Olympic Games since women’s water polo was introduced in 2000. Kiley Neushul led the team with three goals in the Gold-medal match, while Makenzie Fischer and Rachel Fattal had two each. Steffens, Musselman, Mathewson, Melissa Seidemann, and Kami Craig had one goal each. Johnson made nine saves in the cage, and Sami Hill had two saves.

Steffens, Craig, Seidemann, and Mathewson earned their second Olympic gold medals. Steffens, who deferred her senior season at Stanford to focus on the Olympics, perhaps cemented herself as the best player in the world. As Krikorian noted, she didn’t lead any of the pre-Olympic tournaments in scoring, but stepped up her game when it mattered most.

Other contributors for Team USA on the run in Rio included KK Clark, Aria Fischer and Kaleigh Gilchrist. And Krikorian leaned on his assistant coaches Dan Klatt and Chris Oeding.

The United States beat Spain (11-4), China (12-4) and Hungary (11-5) in the preliminary round before getting past Brazil, 13-3, in the quarterfinals.

“I don’t think it can be overstated, the way in which we did it,” Krikorian said. “When we’re clicking and firing on all cylinders, and everyone’s contributing, we can beat teams by four, five, six, seven goals at times. But to think that we would be trailing only for 44 seconds the entire tournament is mind-boggling to me. I would be shocked if anyone has a run like that ever again. It seems like it’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of experience. It’s hard to even put into words.”

But Gilchrist had a few to describe how it felt to win the Gold medal. She turned to history for some perspective.

“I think our team and how we’ve played is just a credit to the teams prior, the women prior who have come before us, who sacrificed and got USA water polo on the map,” she said. “From Maureen O’Toole to Brenda [Villa], to all of these girls who put so many hours into it. Some of them weren’t able to win a Gold medal. We were able to do it, not only for ourselves and our family and our teammates, but for them.”

This article appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of SkipShot magazine




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