For the third time in program history the U.S. Olympic Women’s Water Polo Team will play for an Olympic Gold Medal. Team USA topped Australia 11-9 in overtime to advance to the final on Thursday, August 9 at 8pm bst/3pm est/12pm pst. They will take on the winner of the Hungary/Spain semifinal. Maggie Steffens (Danville, CA/Stanford/Diablo) scored four times, including the go-ahead goal in the first overtime, to push the United States to the victory. Betsey Armstrong (Ann Arbor, MI/Michigan/NYAC) posted 11 saves in net as Australia was held scoreless in both overtime periods. Team USA battled back from a penalty called with just one second left in regulation, an error that allowed Australia to tie the match and force extra time. The United States called a timeout without possession of the ball in the final second of the fourth period leading to the penalty call.
The rest of the match was just as close as the finish. Australia started things off with a power play goal from Ash Southern a little over two minutes into the match for a 1-0 lead. They followed with a goal less than a minute later for a 2-0 lead. Team USA got on the board with 1:30 to play in the period when Courtney Mathewson (Anaheim Hills, CA/UCLA/NYAC) delivered on the power play for a 2-1 game. Lauren Wenger (Long Beach, CA/USC/NYAC) followed on the next possession with a shot that ricocheted off the goalie’s hand, off the crossbar, and then back off the goalie’s head and into the cage for a 2-2 game. Australia drew a penalty on their next possession and converted for a 3-2 lead. That was followed by Wenger who came free with two seconds left in the period, evening the match at 3-3 headed to the second quarter.
In the second, it was Team USA striking first when Melissa Seidemann (Walnut Creek, CA/Stanford/Stanford) found the cage at the 5:26 mark for a 4-3 lead. Australia answered seconds later on another goal from Southern for a 4-4 game. Maggie Steffens came calling on the very next possession with a power play goal for a 5-4 lead. She followed that up moments later with a lob shot for a 6-4 score in favor of the United States. Australia rebounded with a goal on their next possession to close within 6-5. Team USA had a chance to rebuild a two goal lead when Annika Dries (Laguna Beach, CA/Stanford/SET) drew a penalty, but Brenda Villa (Commerce, CA/Stanford/Olympic Club) failed to convert and it remained a one goal game at halftime.
The third period was a defensive battle with each side scoring just once. Maggie Steffens broke through first with a goal out of two meters for a 7-5 lead with 2:49 remaining in the period. Less than a minute later Australia responded with a power play score for a 7-6 game as play moved to the fourth. Three minutes into the fourth period it was Jessica Steffens (Danville, CA/Stanford/NYAC) connecting on a power play for an 8-6 lead. Over the next three minutes Australia roared back with two straight power play goals, evening the game at 8-8 with 2:14 left. Seidemann answered the call for Team USA with 1:40 left, hitting on a power play for a 9-8 lead. That led to the closing seconds of regulation where Australia was able to tie the game on the penalty and force overtime.
Team USA dominated the first overtime period, keeping Australia off the board and posting two goals. Maggie Steffens hit the first score on a power play to grab the lead. Then with just three seconds left Kami Craig (Santa Barbara, CA/USC/Santa Barbara WPF) connected out of two meters for an 11-9 lead. The two teams neutralized each other in the second and final overtime period, but the damage had been done by the United States as they claimed the 11-9 win and a berth in the final.
Notes: The United States went 5/11 on power plays and 0/1 on penalties while Australia was 4/7 on power plays and 2/2 on penalties. Southern led the Aussies in scoring with four goals. This is the fourth consecutive time the two teams have met in an Olympic Games. Australia will play for the Bronze Medal, they won the Bronze Medal in 2008.
Scoring – Scoresheet
USA 11 (3, 3, 1, 2) (2, 0) M. Steffens 4, M. Seidemann 2, L. Wenger 2, C. Mathewson 1, J. Steffens 1, K. Craig 1
AUS (3, 2, 1, 3) (0, 0) A. Southern 4, R. Webster 2, N. Zagame 1, G. Ralph 1, G. Beadsworth 1
Saves – USA – B. Armstrong 10 – AUS – A. McCormack 7
6×5 – USA – 5/11 – AUS – 4/7
Penalties – USA – 0/1 – AUS 2/2
Adam KRIKORIAN (USA) – head coach On calling a time-out when USA didn’t have the ball in the final second, meaning a penalty was awarded to Australia, which they scored and forced extra-time: “It was my fault, it was a bad decision. I thought Betsey (ARMSTRONG) had the ball. “Everything happened so quickly, but it was a big mistake on my part and it could have cost us the game. Sometimes the coach can let you down and the players need to pick you up. Thankfully they did that today.” On what he was thinking when he realised his mistake: “I was feeling horrible. It went through my mind that I might have blown it. But I said to my players that this is not going to stop us.” Melissa SEIDEMANN (USA) On playing against Australia: “I knew it was going to be a tight game, but I also believe that every team is really tough in the semis.” Kami CRAIG (USA) On what happened in the last second of normal time (when Australia were awarded a penalty): “Who knows, who cares? We were ready to play overtime. We practise for these high-pressure situations.” On who she thinks USA will play in the final (either Hungary or Spain): “Don’t know, don’t care. We’ll be ready for either of them.” Lauren WENGER (USA) On blocking a ball with her head at close range in the third quarter: “That’s fine. I wasn’t scared. Whatever body part I need to block it with, I’m there.” On Australia: “There is great rivalry with them. They bring it, we bring it. It’s always going to be a great game.” Maggie STEFFENS (USA) On her sister Jessica’s goal to make the score 8-6 to USA: “Jess’s goal was clutch. I was on the bench thinking back to 2008 in Beijing, saying in my head, ‘Jess, this is you, this is you’. If you could have seen me when she scored I was jumping around like a crazy thing.”