By Aimee Berg, FINA Correspondent
(DAVIS, California) - Australia and the U.S. haven't lost a game in four days at the FINA Women's Water Polo Intercontinental Tournament here in Davis, California. But one of them came perilously close on Friday. Hint: it wasn't Australia (who beat Japan, 8-3). In the last match of the day, the U.S. and Canada were tied, 5-5, with 21 seconds to go. The U.S. had the ball, and as time expired, players and fans started counting down the seconds - louder and louder - like a New Year's Eve ball drop, yet the U.S. kept passing and passing until one second remained. Finally, in a fraction of that second, Melissa Seidemann finally aimed, fired, and hit the back of the net to prevent a shoot-out and clinch a 6-5 triumph for the host nation.
Afterwards, Seidemann said, "I actually had no idea the ball was coming to me. It appeared in my hand, and I shot it."
On Saturday, the two unbeaten teams, Australia and the U.S., will face each other in the final day of round-robin play - a must-see preview of Sunday's gold-medal match.
In other news, Kazakhstan beat China, 9-7, on Friday to capture its first victory of the tournament.
GAME 1: 16:30 KAZAKHSTAN 9 CHINA 7
Quarters: 3-1, 1-4, 3-1, 2-1.
Referees: Martin Murray (CAN), Steven Rotsart (USA)
Extra Man: KAZ 4/11. CHN 1/1.
Pens: KAZ 1/1.
KAZAKHSTAN: Alexandra Zharkinbaeva, Anastassia Yeremina, Aizhan Akilbaeva, Anna Turova, Kamila Zakizova (2), Anna Novikova, Darya Roga (1), Oxana Saichuk, Sivilya Raiter, Darya Muravyeva (1), Anastassia Mirshina (5), Assem Mussarova, Aigerim Abildaeva, Head Coach: Andrey Sazukin.
CHINA: Peng Lin, Xiong Dunhan (1), Tian Jianing (2), Pan Li, Zhai Ying (1), Deng Zewen, Guo Ning (1), Deng Yu (1), Nong Sanpeng, Ma Huanhuan, Wang Dujuan (1), Li Chenying, Xie Yuting, Head Coach: Lin Jun.
Neither Kazakhstan nor China had won a match all week, and the teams were tied 7-all early in the fourth quarter. Eventually, Kazakhstan prevailed, 9-7 -- thanks, in part, to five goals by 21-year-old Anastassia Mirshina.
Here's how it unfolded: China scored the first goal of the game, but Kazakhstan rapidly caught up and took a 3-1 lead after Mirshina and Darya Roga scored within 20 seconds of each other and Kamila Zakizova added a power play goal with 2:50 left in the first quarter. In the second quarter, China tallied four goals while Mirshina contributed one for Kazakhstan (on a power play). China led, 5-4, at halftime.
In the third period, Kazakhstan's relentless physicality prevented China from making more than four shots But one of those four shots came after a steal and a long-fast breakaway by Xiong Dunhan who found the back of the net to give China a 6-4 lead. Kazakhstan's Darya Murayeva answered it with high arcing goal, and Mirshina added one more to tie it at 6 apiece. After China's Nong Sanpeng earned her third exclusion, Mirshina fired a 5-meter penalty shot past goalie Peng Lin to give Kazakhstan a 7-6 lead. In the final quarter, Deng Yu scored quickly on a power play to tie it at 7, but Kazakhstan's Kamila Zakizova retaliated 12 seconds later to give her country an 8-7 lead. Four minutes later, Mirshina plumped up the score once more en route to Kazakhstan's first victory, 9-7.
Kazakhstan player Anastassia Mirshina (scored 5 goals):
"It was a very tough game. China was a strong team, physically and mentally tough. Of course, we were more physical. I never scored five goals in a game before. I've been on the senior national team four years."
China player Deng Zewen:
"I don't think it was the most physical game so far. I learned in this game that I must be strong."
GAME 2: 17:50, JAPAN 3 AUSTRALIA 8
Quarters: 0-2, 2-1, 0-3, 1-2
Referees: Haz Ortega (USA), Victor Salnicenko (KAZ)
Extra Man: JPN 1/3. AUS 0/3.
Pens: AUS 1/1.
JAPAN: Miyuu Aoki, Yumi Arima (3), Haruna Nonomura, Shino Magariyama, Chiaki Sakanoue, Miku Koida, Akari Inada, Mimori Yamamoto, Kana Hosoya, Misaki Noro, Marina Tokumoto, Kotori Suzuki, Yuka Kamatashiro, Head Coach: Hideo Kato.
AUSTRALIA: Lilian Hedges, Keesja Gofers (1), Hannah Buckling, Elle Armit (2), Isobel Bishop (1), Amy Ridge, Rowie Webster (2), Bridget Leeson-Smith, Dayna O'Leary, Tiana Sogaard Anderson, Ashleigh Roberts (2), Alice Williams, Gabriella Palm, Head Coach: Sakis Kechagias.
The first quarter of Japan-Australia match was scoreless until the last 33 seconds when an exclusion on Japan's Kana Hosoya allowed Australia captain Rowie Webster to bury a penalty shot. Later, just 2 seconds before the end of the first period, Webster scored again (this time left-handed). In the second quarter, Isobel Bishop made a left-handed shot over Miyuu Aoki's head to give Australia a 3-0 lead within the first minute. Japan's Yumi Arima scored the next two points - but it wasn't easy because both teams tended to splay themselves out along the perimeter of the pool while gusty, shifting winds made it difficult to complete long passes. Australia led, 3-2 at halftime, but it was anyone's game.
In the third period, Australia added three points while keeping Japan scoreless to inflate its lead, 6-2. Ashleigh Roberts made it 7-2 in the fourth. Arima, however, made sure to get a hat trick for Japan with a decisive long-range slammer with 5:42 to go. Four minutes later, Elle Armit tallied the last point for Australia in an 8-3 rout that marked its fourth win in four days.
Japan Head Coach Hideo Kato:
"In the first half we couldn't convert counter attack shots. In the second half, the accuracy of our passing very much deteriorated - probably because of the wind. Therefore I asked the players not to do long passes. Also, since they couldn't get counterattacks shots in the first half, they lost momentum."
Australia player Ashleigh Roberts (2 goals):
"[Japan] is definitely a very different type of team to play. You've got to keep trying, keep flogging it out and everything will come. They're fast, little, quick and agile - a little different to us. Australia's fast, but we're bigger and stronger."
GAME 3: 19:10, CANADA 5 UNITED STATES 6
Quarters: 1-1, 2-0, 0-2, 2-3.
Referees: Andrew Carney (AUS), Tadao Tahara (JPN)
Extra Man: CAN 3/4. USA 1/10.
Pens: USA 0/1.
CANADA: Jessica Gaudreault, Kelly McKee, Axelle Crevier, Elyse Lemay (1), Chayma Hlanadif, Michelle Caron, Joelle Bekhazi (2), Shae Fournier (1), Gurpreet Sohi (1), Dominique Perreault, Verica Bakoc, Marina Radu, Clara Vulpisi, Head Coach: David Paradelo.
UNITED STATES: Thea Walsh, Ava Johnson, Melissa Seidemann (1), Alexandra Thomason, Sarah Klass, Bayley Weber, Alexis Liebowitz, Ryann Neushul (1), Aria Fischer (2), Jewel Roemer (1), Abrielle Hill, Paige Hauschild (1), Georgia Phillips,Head Coach: Adam Krikorian.
Canada made U.S. fans nervous when it raced to an early lead that began with Joelle Bekhazi's goal in the first minute of the game on a power play. Relief came when 18-year-old Aria Fischer tied it for the U.S. with 2:26 to go in the first period. In the second quarter, Canada held the U.S. scoreless while adding two more points, first by Elyse Lemay, then by Shae Fournier's long-distance bounce-in past U.S. goalie Georgia Phillips with 3:10 left in the first half.
At halftime, the U.S. trailed 3-1 despite taking 14 shots (to Canada's 11). The U.S. had also failed to capitalize on four play opportunities. But early in the third quarter Aria Fischer and Paige Hauschild added two points for the U.S. and the two North American nations were deadlocked at 3-3. In the fourth quarter, Canada pulled ahead, 4-3, thanks to Bekhazi's shot into the top of the U.S. net. But 16 seconds later, Ryann Neushul bounced one into the lower left corner of Canada's net to even the score, 4-4. U.S. goalie Georgia Phillips made a pair of huge saves and Jewel Roemer's skip shot with 1:48 to play helped the U.S. pull ahead 5-4. With 21 seconds to go, Aria Fischer was waiting for her exclusion to expire when Gurpreet Sohi scored for Canada to tie the game. In the final seconds, while everyone was counting down, Melissa Seidemann scored for U.S. a 6-5 win.
Round-robin concludes on Saturday with China facing Japan, followed by Kazakhstan vs. Canada, and Australia vs. USA.
Canada Head Coach David Paradelo:
"We played according to plan. We had a good press from the beginning going into a good zone. We played that accordingly. Right after the U.S. got way more physical, we had to work on releases to feed those balls in. We had a bit of difficulty in doing that but, in the end, it's a very good effort for our team -going [strong] till the end - just having a bit of an unlucky opportunity just at the last second."
United States Head Coach Adam Krikorian:
"I have no expectations going into any of these games. I don't know our team that well; I don't know these other teams that well. And I could honestly care less about the result. Just using this as a good opportunity to get some experience. [Re: U.S. goalie Georgia Phillips' many key saves:] She's young, 16. She's a puppy. We've got a lot of young puppies out here. But she's got some natural athleticism, as you can tell. She's done a really nice job - both goalies have done a nice job - for us."
United States player Melissa Seidemann (scored game-winning goal in final second):
[Re: what ran through her head as she took the last shot as time was expiring] "I actually had no idea the ball was coming to me. Then it appeared in my hand, and I shot it. I think it's just a testament to coaching and Adam drilling into our heads: always being prepared for the ball, already being prepared for the next play. So I kept my legs ready, saw an opening, and took a shot."
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