LONG BEACH, Calif., June 26. IT wasn't easy, but the U.S. Olympic women's water polo team learned that their Olympic hosts were no pushovers at least a week ago. So when things were still snarled tightly in the fourth quarter of their night game (Game Twelve) with Greece in the last game of group play at the FINA World League Super Final, the U.S. women were able to keep their composure and confidence to pull out a 9-7 win Friday night in front of a crowd of 1,889 at the Charter All-Digital Aquatic Centre in Long Beach, Calif, as reported by USA Water Polo media officials. The victory puts Team USA up against Italy for an 8:30 p.m. semifinal on Saturday.
Team USA and Greece finished in a 7-7 tie when they faced off last week during the Holiday Cup in La Jolla, Calif., but the draw was sandwiched by a pair of wins to secure the tournament title. At the FINA World League Super Final, however, a tie wasn't going to cut it. Team USA needed to win outright in order to finish in the top two of Group A and move on to Saturday's semifinals. Thursday night's 10-5 loss to Russia was still stinging, and the U.S. women needed a good win.
In contrast to the previous night, the U.S. offense got on the board first and put together a scoring run in the first quarter. Unfortunately for Team USA, Greece was able to piece together an even longer run, chalking up three straight across the first and second quarters. After a second quarter of scoring silence, the USA busted out six goals in the second half as Brenda Villa (Commerce, CA/Stanford/Commerce) emerged as the game's top scorer to help Team USA get the much-needed win.
"We made a few big mistakes in the first half, but we had a great second half, and that was the difference," U.S. coach Guy Baker said.
One of Team USA's top guns, attacker Ericka Lorenz (San Diego, CA/UC Berkeley) made the biggest impact early in the game on defense, throwing a field block and nabbing a couple steals to kept the ball in U.S. hands. With 3:48 left in the first quarter, Team USA struck. Robin Beauregard (Huntington Beach, CA/UCLA/New York AC) crossed to Villa on the left side, and Villa drilled in the score for a 1-0 U.S. edge.
Then Ellen Estes (Novato, CA/Stanford) took a turn. With four Greek defenders swarming her at two meters, Estes got off the shot, rifling in the score to make it 2-0. Greece stopped the short run with a two-meter strike by Georgia Lara, and Villa responded with a perfectly placed lob from eight meters out for a 3-1 score at 1:58.
A U.S. miss put Greece on the counterattack. After earning a man advantage, Greece was still up on the counter, and Eftychia Karagianni nailed the nearside score to keep it a one-goal game for the second quarter. Greece then registered another 6-on-5 score, making it 3-for-3 on power plays, and then went ahead 4-3 on an even score from Stavroula Kozompoli with 2:44 to go in the half.
Lorenz got riled up and launched in a tying score in the 6-on-5 in the third. The USA worked the ball around midway through the third, with Heather Petri (Orinda, CA/UC Berkeley) getting the ball into Estes at set. Estes popped the ball right out to Natalie Golda (Fullerton, CA/UCLA/New York AC) on the right side, and Golda rocketed in the goal to put Team USA back on top. The next time Estes got the ball at two meters, she didn't give it back up. Estes went up, took the pass from Golda midair, and blasted in the score for a 6-4 lead. Greece stopped the run with a 6-on-5 score with 30 seconds left in the period, and the game was back to a one-goal contest at 6-5 USA.
In the fourth quarter, the game locked even at 6-6 with a score from Angeliki Karapataki. Lorenz caught Greece unawares with 5:46 to play, taking some heat off of her usual blazing shot and lofting in a crosscage score to snatch back the lead for the USA and prompting Greece to put their starting goalie Georgia Ellinaki back in the cage after replacing her with Anthoula Mylonaki earlier in the game. Ellinaki could do nothing when Petri made up her mind to slot a scalding skip shot crosscage and in for a long-awaited two-goal U.S. lead at the four-minute mark.
U.S. goalie Jackie Frank (Long Beach, CA/Stanford) turned away one Greek 6-on-5 strike, but the next got by her off the hands of Evangelia Roumpesi. Villa struck right back on Team USA's next power play, going bar-in to push the USA up 9-7 with a minute and a half left.
Next up is another familiar foe in Italy. The No. 2 Italians earned their second-place ranking at the hands of Team USA with an 8-6 loss at the 2003 FINA World Championships in Barcelona, Spain. The world champs have clashed with Italy plenty since then, most recently posting a 9-5 win to claim the championship of the 2004 Holiday Cup.
"Against Italy it'll be a great game. We'll have to play a bit better to win, but the crowd will definitely get a bit of everything," Baker promised.
For more information on the FINA World League Super Final games and the rest of the Toyota Aquatics Grand Prix in Long Beach, visit www.longbeach2004.com.
For more information on Team USA, go to www.usawaterpolo.com.
USA: Villa 3, Estes 2, Lorenz 2, Petri 1, Golda 1
Greece: Kozompoli 2, Lara 1, Karagianni 1, Melidoni 1, Roumpesi 1, Karapataki 1
USA: Payne 0, Frank 6
Greece Ellinaki 4, Mylonaki 1
Player Advantage Scoring
USA: 3 for 5
Greece 4 for 7
Russia 10, Kazakhstan 6:
Russia stayed in control of the top spot in Group A and ensured itself a place in the semifinals with its solid win over Kazakhstan. The Russian's scoring pace from the previous night slowed down considerably for their Friday-afternoon game with their Kazakh neighbors.
After eight minutes of silence, Kazakhstan took the first lead of the game with 51 seconds to go in the first quarter. Anna Zubkova sailed in a shot from the perimeter for Kazakhstan, and that seemed to wake up Russia. On its third 6-on-5 opportunity of the quarter, Russia finally converted, and Olga Turova jetted in the tying score with 10 seconds to go in the period.
Russia 1 3 2 4 — 10
Kazakhstan 1 2 0 3 — 6
Russia: Smurova 3, Turova 2, Konukh 1, Vasileva 1, Salimova 1, Zubkova 1, Bogdanova 1
Kazakhstan: Ignatyeva 2, Zubkova 1, Gritsenko 1, Jakayeva 1, Tolkunova 1
Italy 13, Canada 8:
The fourth-ranked Canadians forced No. 2 Italy to play catch-up in the first half, but a three-goal streak from Italy to start the second turned the tables on Canada. Canada had held a two-goal edge in the second quarter, but Italy roared back in the second half, twice taking a four-goal lead and then jumping to five late in the game.
Italy 2 3 4 4 — 13
Canada 2 4 1 1 — 8
Italy: Bosurgi 3, Allucci 3, Grego 2, DiMario 1, Toth 1, Zanchi 1 , Araujo 1, Musumeci 1
Canada: Dow 3, Dionne 2, Illing 1, Campbell 1, Begin 1
Game Eleven Hungary 5, Australia 4:
Another tight game was in the cards for Australia, which was on the losing end of a penalty shootout with Canada on day one and then fell behind in the fourth quarter with Italy on day two.
Day three didn't break the cycle, however. Against Hungary, Australia posted some stiff defensive stands against Hungary's dangerous shooters, but had trouble getting the ball by Hungary's taskmaster in the cage, Ildiko Sos. Plus, Hungary's Mercedes Stieber caused too much of trouble in the third quarter, slipping in two unanswered goals to put Australia behind by two for the fourth quarter.
Australia 1 2 0 1 — 4
Hungary 2 1 2 0 — 5
Australia: Brooks 1, Norwood 1, Fox 1, R. Rippon 1
Hungary: Stieber 3, Valkai 1, Dravucz 1
Points Table — Final Group Standings
Group A Standings Games Win Loss Tie G + G – G.D. Pts.
Russia 3 3 0 0 31 19 +12 9
USA 3 2 1 0 24 21 +3 7
Greece 3 1 2 0 26 22 +4 5
Kazakhstan 3 0 3 0 12 31 -19 3
Group B Standings Games Win Loss Tie G + G – G.D. Pts.
Italy 3 3 0 0 30 20 +10 9
Hungary 3 2 1 0 21 17 +4 6
Canada 3 1 2 0 27 36 -9 4*
Australia 3 0 3 0 23 28 -5 3
* — FINA World League rules assess 2 points for a win via shootout, 3 for a regulation win.
FINA Women's World League Super Final Schedule
Date Time Team Team Result
Wed. June 23 4 p.m. Hungary vs. Italy 4-6
5:30 p.m. Greece vs. Russia 8-11
6:45 p.m. Australia vs. Canada 11-12 (shootout)
8:45 p.m. USA vs. Kazakhstan 10-4
Thurs. June 24 4 p.m. Hungary vs. Canada 12-7
5:30 p.m. Greece vs. Kazakhstan 11-2
7 p.m. Australia vs. Italy 8-11
8:30 p.m. USA vs. Russia 5-10
Fri. June 25 4 p.m. Russia vs. Kazakhstan 10-6
5:30 p.m. Italy vs. Canada 13-8
7 p.m. Australia vs. Hungary 4-5
8:30 p.m. USA vs. Greece 9-7
Sat. June 26 4 p.m. Greece vs. Australia
5:30 p.m. Canada vs. Kazakhstan
7 p.m. (Semifinal) Russia vs. Hungary
8:30 p.m. (Semifinal) Italy vs. USA
Sun. June 27 4 p.m. (7th place) vs.
5:30 p.m. (5th place) vs.
7 p.m. (3rd place) vs.
8:30 p.m. (Championship) vs.
Home Away from Home
The FINA World League Super Final brings a number of overseas Olympians within easy reach of their own collegiate waters. Canadian goalie Rachel Riddell and field player Christine Robinson both hail from Loyola Marymount University, though they are taking time off to train with their national teammates as Canada prepares for this summer's trip to Athens. Australia's Kelly Heuchan was a UCLA Bruin alongside a host of current members of Team USA. USC is also well-represented by foreign talent in Anniko Pelle of Hungary and Russia's Sofya Konukh.