By Eric Velazquez
Team USA Women Thrash Their Way to 7-5 Victory
Sydney, Australia—A few bumps, scratches, and torn suits aside, the U.S. women’s water polo team came away squeaky clean winners with a 7-5 victory over Russia and remains the only undefeated team in the Olympic tournament.
Couple that with a win by Holland over previously unbeaten home body Australia, and the U.S. now sits at the top of the standings with two games remaining in round robin play. And in these two games, Baker’s Dozen will deal with extremes, playing 2-1 gold favorite Australia tomorrow in a 1:00 p.m. game and facing winless Kazakhstan the following day at 7:30 p.m.
But regardless of the opponent, Team USA plans to attack the game the same way.
“We’re going to come out and play hard regardless of who it is,” said U.S. playmaker Brenda Villa.
Hard play was the theme of Monday night’s match, whose physicalities might just have well have been called by Al Michaels and Dennis Miller. By game’s end, blood could be seen on the face of two-meter defender Heather Moody and Heather Petrie was short one suit.“They play a very physical game,” said veteran Maureen O’Toole. “But Guy has really made sure that we’re prepared for anything.”
Through two quarters, the Russians looked just as prepared, having played America to a 3-3 tie. The deadlock was broken early on in the third quarter when Coralie Simmons connected on a penalty shot at the 6:25 mark. Russia answered with 4:59 to go, courtesy of an extra-man goal by Natalia Koutouzova.
The U.S. went up for good with 3:32 to go in the third, when O’Toole scored her second game-winner in three days. Fighting in the trenches, O’Toole drew an ejection on Russia’s Elena Smourova, kicked it out to Coralie Simmons at the lefthander’s position, got it back and shot one past Marina Akobia for a 5-4 lead. Before it was over, O’Toole and Coralie Simmons buried their second and third goals of the night, respectively, O’Toole’s coming early in the fourth quarter.
Russia’s Ekaterina Anikeeva managed a score with 1:35 left to play to cap off the scoring at 7-5.
The U.S. is now the only unbeaten team in the talented field of six. But according to head coach Guy Baker, it doesn’t matter where the team finishes, so long as it’s in the top four.
“It really doesn’t matter if we finish first or not, so long as we’re in the top four for semifinals,” he said. “Any of the teams that we face in semis will be tough games for us, so we’re prepared for that.”
In other games:
Holland 5, Australia 4
Canada 10, Kazakhstan 3
Up Next for the U.S.:
The U.S., while having won tough games against Russia and Holland, is not in the clear yet. Tomorrow (Sept. 19), coach Baker and company will face gold-medal favorite Australia in a 1:00 p.m game at Ryde Aquatic Center. The game, which was sold out well in advance, is being billed by many as a preview of the gold medal game. Australia is led by Bridgette Gusterson and goalkeeper Liz Weekes, and is currently 2-1 in round robin play. In the last meeting between these two teams, the U.S. walked off with an 8-7 win.