By Aimee Berg, FINA Correspondent
It was anyone’s guess who would emerge victorious on Day 1 of the 2017 FINA Women’s Intercontinental Tournament. The heat was scorching (95 F/35 C), the wind was howling, and all six teams had a multitude of inexperienced young players. In the end, Australia, Japan, and the United States earned comfortable victories at the Schaal Aquatic Center at the University of California-Davis (located about 29km, or 18 miles, west of Sacramento).
Final scores: Australia routed China, 13-6. Japan beat Canada, 13-8. The U.S. defeated Kazakhstan, 12-7.
Round-robin play continues through Saturday as all six teams vie for coveted berths at the FINA World League Super Final in Shanghai, China, June 6-11. The top four teams after Sunday’s playoffs (plus China, the Super Final host) will qualify.
Extra Man: AUS: 1/4. CHN 1/2.
AUSTRALIA: Lilian Hedges, Keesja Gofers (3), Hannah Buckling, Elle Armit (1), Isobel Bishop (1), Amy Ridge (2) Rowie Webster (5), Bridget Leeson-Smith (1), Dayna O’Leary, Tiana Sogaard Anderson, Ashleigh Roberts, Alice Williams, Gabriella Palm, Head Coach: Sakis Kechagias.
CHINA: Peng Lin, Xiong Dunhan, Tian Jianing (2), Pan Li, Zhai Ying (1), Deng Zewen (1), Guo Ning, Deng Yu, Nong Sanpeng, Ma Huanhuan, Wang Dujuan (2), Li Chenying, Xie Yuting, Head Coach: Lin Jun.
Under the glaring sun and strong winds, Australia handily beat China to open the tournament. China’s Xiong Dunhan scored the first goal, but Australia had a 3-1 lead by the end of the first period, thanks to consecutive goals by Rio Olympians Keesja Gofers and Isobel Bishop, and a last-minute steal by Gofers who fed the ball to Elle Armit who then sunk the ball past China’s goalkeeper Peng Lin to capture a two-point advantage.
Early in the second period, Gofers netted a high lob off the fingertips of China’s goalie Peng, to make it 4-1. Australian captain Rowie Webster increased her team’s lead with a shot deep into the upper left corner of the net with 3:20 to go, making it 5-1 for Australia. Eighty seconds later, China finally answered when Ying Zhai scored on a power play to make it 5-2. Each team scored once more, and it was 6-3 at halftime.
Webster opened and closed the third quarter with goals to complete a hat trick. In between, Gofers added a solo shot, and China’s Wang Dujuan earned China its fourth goal of the game. It was 9-4 entering the fourth quarter. The teams alternated the next four goals (scoring two apiece), before Webster nailed her fourth and fifth goals of the day to punctuate an emphatic victory over China, 13-6.
Australia Captain Rowie Webster (scored 5 goals):
“We had, I think, six debutantes; this was their first international. We knew if we had a good start, we could give some water time to the young girls, which is really nice. China came out really hard. They scored the first goal so we were on the back foot. We just grinded away and we stuck to our game plan and we’re really happy with our 13-6 game.”
China Captain Ma Huanhuan:
“It was a good game because we have many young players and we are training the young players.”
Extra Man: JPN 1/1. CAN 0/4.
Pens: JPN 1/1
JAPAN: Miyuu Aoki, Yumi Arima (2), Haruna Nonomura (1), Shino Magariyama (1), Chiaki Sakanoue (2), Miku Koida, Akari Imada (1), Mimori Yamamoto, Kana Hosoya (3), Misaki Noro, Marina Tokumoto (1), Kotori Suzuki (2), Yuka Kamatashiro, Head Coach: Hideo Kato.
CANADA: Jessica Gaudreault, Kelly McKee (1), Axelle Crevier (1), Elyse Lemay (2), Chayma Hlandadif, Michelle Caron, Joelle Bekhazi (3), Shae Fournier (1), Gurpreet Sohi, Dominique Perreault, Verica Bakoc, Marina Radu, Clara Villpisi, Head Coach: David Paradelo.
In the second game of the day, Canada kept it close, but Japan blew open the fourth quarter with a six-goal blast (including five uninterrupted points), to win 13-8.
After the first quarter, the teams were tied 2-2. Canada went up 3-2 early in the second quarter on Elyse Lemay’s solo goal, but Japanese captain Kotori Suzuki converted a penalty shot (following the exclusion of Canada’s Joelle Bekhazi) to tie it at 3 apiece. Japan’s Mimori Yamamoto’s unassisted goal with 5:11 remaining in the first half gave Japan a 4-3 lead, and when Chiaki Sakanoue stuffed the ball into the right corner of the net, Japan had a 5-3 cushion at halftime. At that point, Japan had outshot Canada,14 to 8, and Canada had failed to score on both of its power-play opportunities.
In a back-and-forth third quarter, Canada’s Joelle Bekhazi capped a hat trick with 3:11 to go, which narrowed Canada’s deficit to 4-5. Less than a minute later, however, Japan’s Yumi Arima made it 6-4 for Japan. Canada responded with a well-placed shot by Kelly McKee to bring Canada within one goal of a tie. Each team scored once more to make it 7-6 entering the fourth quarter (Japan leading). Japan’s Marina Tokumoto opened the final period with a long-range missile that found the net despite hitting players’ fingers along the way. Axelle Crevier replied to keep Canada within one goal of Japan, but in the next five minutes, Japan pulled ahead 13-7. Bekhazi finally scored again for Canada with merely 19 seconds to go but the damage was done and Japan won, 13-8.
Japan Captain Kotori Suzuki (through an interpreter):
“[The keys to victory were] we kept making counterattacks. And everyone made very quick decisions to take shots when we had good opportunities.”
Canada goalkeeper Jessica Gaudreault:
“We’re a pretty new squad so we’re finding our chemistry still. We have to focus on playing our game, especially for this tournament. They [Japan] like to do a lot of picks and drives so we had to pay attention to that.”
Extra Man: KAZ 6/8. USA 5-7.
Pens: KAZ 1/1. USA 3/3.
KAZAKHSTAN: Alexandra Zharkinbaeva, Anastassia Yeremina, Aizhan Akilbaeva, Anna Turova, Kamila Zakizova (3), Anna Novikova, Darya Roga, Oxana Saichuk, Sivilya Raiter, Darya Muravyeva, Anastassia Mirshina (4), Assem Mussarova, Aigerim Abildaeva, Head Coach: Andrey Sazukin.
UNITED STATES: Thea Walsh, Ava Johnson, Melissa Seidemann (4), Alexandra Thomason (1), Sarah Klass, Bayley Weber, Alexis Liebowitz, Ryann Neushul, Aria Fischer (4), Jewel Roemer (1), Abrielle Hill (1), Paige Hauschild (1), Georgia Phillips, Head Coach: Adam Krikorian.
Kazkhastan challenged the world and Olympic champions in a physical game that featured 15 power play opportunities, but the young U.S. squad that was missing many of its veterans (because of a scheduling conflict with NCAA college season) prevailed 12-7.
As the glaring sun sank behind the bleachers and the gusty winds died down, U.S. captain Melissa Seidemann set the tone for the night by scoring the first goal on a power play. But Kazakhstan’s Anastassia Mirshina tied the game with a power play goal of her own. Aria Fischer answered to make it 2-1 for the host nation, and Paige Hauschild nailed a penalty shot to give the US a 3-1 lead at the end of the first eight minutes.
In the second period, the teams traded the first four goals (each scoring twice, all on power plays), but Seidemann extended the U.S. lead to 6-3, just eight seconds before the buzzer. By halftime,
Kazakhstan outshot the US 12 to 8 but only made 25% of its shots while the U.S. netted 75% of its eight attempts.
In the third quarter, each team scored twice. Seidemann opened with a power play goal, Kamila Zakizova scored two power-play goals in a row for Kazakhstan, and Seidemann scored a penalty shot in the final second to give the U.S. a comfortable 8-5 edge. In the fourth, each team scored once on power plays, before Fischer and Alexandra Thomason inflated the U.S. score to 11-6. The game ended with two penalty shot goals – the first scored by Kazakhstan’s Mirshina, and the last by Jewel Roemer of the U.S. in a 12-7 win for the host nation.
Kazakhstan Head Coach Andrey Sazukin (through an interpreter):
“We have to train [more] on attack, not the defense. We have no veterans on this team, only people with qualifications with skills – and a few young ladies that just started playing. The oldest is 26. The youngest is 16.”
United States Head Coach Adam Krikorian:
“It’s a start for us. We have a long way to go. We hope to get better each game. We have a lot of young players that need to learn a lot in a short period of time. The beauty is in the details. I wouldn’t expect them to know all the little things that make big things happen. But this is why they’re here. This is a great experience and I hope they learn a ton.”
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