ATHENS, Greece, August 21. KNOWING that even four-goal leads are never safe at the Olympic Games, the U.S. women made sure to stay organized and effective in the fourth quarter of its final preliminary game against Russia.
By game’s end, Team USA had secured itself n 8-4 win over Russia — a hefty enough win to put the finishing touches on first place in Group B and a free ride to the semifinals per USA Water Polo reports. Even if Canada beats Hungary at the end of the day and winds up in a three-way tie at 2-1 with USA and Russia, goal differential between the those three teams would weigh in the United States’ favor. Team USA can now rest assured that it will play for an Olympic medal, although the preferred color is obvious. The U.S. women have reached the medal round of all but one international tournament since 1999.
“This team is looking forward to getting back out and playing again. It really shows the character of this team. They love challenges and so far, they’ve done well with each one,” U.S. coach Guy Baker said. “We’re going to play for a medal. We don’t know what color. We’ll figure that out in four days. Plan A was to get to the medal round as soon as we could.”
U.S. goalie Jackie Frank (Long Beach, CA/Stanford/Golden West) had a phenomenal game in the cage. She racked up a whopping 14 saves for Team USA, stifling a number of dangerous Russian strikes to help protect against any late runs like the five- goal streak Canada managed in a 6-5 win over the USA two days earlier. The 14-save performance stands as Franks most stifling presence in goal for Team USA in major competition since notching 14 in a semifinal win over Canada at the 2002 World Cup
in Perth, Australia.
“Jackie played well the entire game. We never expect to come into these games and get the kinds of leads that we have. All the teams have great shooters, great centers and great 6-on-5s. She’s been playing well,” Baker said. “The thing that we emphasized was playing our game. We focused on what we needed to do and how we wanted to play. Six different people scored eight goals. I like it when it’s more balanced.”
In the early goings of the game, Olga Turova bore down on Frank on a Russian counterattack. Frank got up and made a big save to get the ball rolling on her domination in the cage. Another important Frank save followed that on Russia’s next trip down. After another solid U.S. defensive stand, Team USA went on the attack. Brenda Villa’s (Commerce, CA/Stanford/Commerce) shot from the top hit the bar, but Kelly Rulon was there for the rebound. On the far left post, Rulon (San Diego, CA/ UCLA/San Diego Shores) gathered in the ball and shoved it to the back of the net for a 1-0 U.S. lead at 3:10 in the first quarter. Maria Yaina got some help from a U.S. field block attempt next, however, and the deflection knocked the ball past Frank to make it 1-1.
A minute and a half into the second half, Robin Beauregard (Huntington Beach, CA/ UCLA/New York AC) lifted the U.S. women ahead 2-1 with a skipper to the left side of the cage. Soon after, Villa made it 3-1 with a sneaky shot to the right side. Next, it was time for Villa to set up some U.S. center play. She dumped the ball in to Amber Stachowski (Rancho Santa Margarita, CA/UCLA) at two meters, and Stachowski jammed in the score for a 4-1 lead. Russia earned its third 6-on-5 advantage of the game on its next possession, however, and finished off the play with a quick score from Turova at set. Frank put a stop to Russia’s next strike and promptly fed into the U.S. counterattack. Passing up to U.S. captain Heather Moody (Green River, WY/San Diego State/New York AC), Team USA had Beauregard and Margie Dingeldein (Merced, CA/Stanford) streaking toward the cage. Moody crossed to Dingeldein, who went crosscage bar-in to snag a 5-2 advantage for the U.S. women two minutes away from halftime. Franks’s sixth save of the game gave the USA the final possession of the half, though it was unable to finish off its first power play of the game, leaving it 5-2 for the second half.
Ekaterina Salimova blasted in another 6-on-5 score for Russia at the 5:47 mark of the third quarter with a shot from two meters, creeping the Russians to within two. Rulon got the ball in to U.S. center Ellen Estes (Novato, CA/Stanford), and her efforts at set were rewarded with a four-meter penalty shot. Villa drilled in the score, rattling it around the cage for a 6-3 U.S. lead. On Team USA’s second power play of the game, Ericka Lorenz (San Diego, CA/UC Berkeley) climbed out of the water on the right side and rifled it in to make it 7-3 with 3:44 left in the third. Russia had an opportunity to claw back with a streaking counterattack, but U.S. attackers Lorenz and Heather Petri (Orinda, CA/UC Berkeley) closed in and smothered the chance.
Team USA’s next 6-on-5 opportunity failed, but it got another one on its next trip down the pool. This one threatened to pass bay as well after a save out of bounds, but as the teams were pulling even, Beauregard catapulted in her second goal of the game on a speeding skip shot to go up 8-3. Russia pulled back on a score from Natalia Shepelina, and it was 8-4 USA with 3:54 on the clock. In contrast to the game with Canada, Team USA held strong to its lead for the remainder of the game. Frank continued to shine in the cage, and the four-goal lead held down to the final buzzer.
“We really didn’t change anything heading into this game. We prepared the same way that we have for all the games,” Baker said. “I think we’ve played 11 good quarters here. Every team here will have a bad quarter. It would have been nice if the game against Canada was five quarters.”
Television: 9:15 a.m. ET on the USA Network
The U.S. women’s overpowering performance against Russia today pushes them straight to the Olympic semifinals on August 24. There, they will await the winner of the first August 22 quarterfinal, which is yet to be determined by the final games of the day. As it now stands, only Kazakhstan is definitely out of the running for the medal rounds. Kazakhstan finished winless in Group A, while a Hungary win over Canada tonight can pull it off the bottom of the standings and into the quarterfinals.
The semifinal games are scheduled to be aired starting at 10 a.m. ET on MSNB on Tuesday (August 24). The U.S. women’s game is the second semifinal of the day. (Olympic television coverage is always subject to change, so check your local listings.)
Team USA 1 4 2 1 — 8
Russia 1 1 1 1 — 4
Team USA: Villa 2, Beauregard 2, Rulon 1, Stachowski 1, Dingeldein 1, Lorenz 1
Russia: Yaina 1, Turova 1, Shepelina 1, Salimova 1
Team USA: Frank 14
Russia: Vorontsova 5
Player Advantage Scoring
Team USA: 2 for 5, 1 for 1 penalty shots
Russia: 2 for 6
Referees: Sergio Borrell (Spain), Boris Margeta (Slovenia)
Delegate: Monica Graciela Brochero (Argentina)
Schedule/Scores (All scores not available at time of release) Italy 8, Kazakhstan 6 USA 8, Russia 4 Australia vs Greece Canada vs Hungary
Group A Standings* Win Loss Tie G.F. G.A. G.D. Points
Australia 2 0 0 15 9 +6 4
Italy 2 1 0 20 14 +6 4
Greece 1 1 0 10 13 -3 2
Kazakhstan 0 3 0 16 25 -9 0
* — complete results not available at time of release
Group B Standings* Win Loss Tie G.F. G.A. G.D. Points
Team USA% 2 1 0 20 16 +4 4
Russia 2 1 0 21 22 -1 4
Canada 1 1 0 12 13 -1 2
Hungary 0 2 0 14 16 -2 0
* — complete results not available at time of release
% — Team USA earns tiebreaker through either head-to-head decision with Russia and/or goal differential between the top teams.