LOS ALAMITOS, Calif, December 4. THE World Champion U.S. women’s water polo team opened up play at the 6th Annual Holiday Cup with a 6-5 win over reigning Olympic champion Australia before 175 fans at the USA Water Polo National Aquatic Center in Los Alamitos (Calif.). Six of the world’s top seven ranked teams will be competing in the tournament through Sunday (Dec. 7).
The U.S. made the most of its 6-on-5 chances to take the early edge. A player-up goal by Robin Beauregard (Huntington Beach, CA/UCLA/New York Athletic Club) went high into the left corner past Aussie goalkeeper Jemma Bronlow with 5:33 to go in the first, giving the U.S. a 1-0 lead. Melissa Rippon leveled the score at 1-1 for the Olympic champs a minute later on a counterattack, but the U.S. earned another ejection and converted the attempt, this time on a goal by Heather Petri (Orinda, CA/Cal Berkeley), making it a 2-1 USA lead heading into the second.
The Australians tied it with 3:31 to go in the second quarter on a goal by 2000 Olympian Naomi Castle from six meters out. With 1:31 to play, the U.S. earned its fourth ejection, which was followed by a nearside skip goal by Ericka Lorenz (San Diego, CA/Cal Berkeley). To show that it wasn’t made of just 6-on-5 goals, the U.S. tacked on a natural one on a fade away lob score by Brenda Villa (Commerce, CA/Stanford/Commerce WP) from about eight meters out. The goal gave the U.S. a 4-2 lead heading into the halftime break.
Team USA started the third quarter with some youthful exuberance, getting a goal out of the hole from 16-year-old Kami Craig (Santa Barbara, CA/Santa Barbara HS/Santa Barbara WP) to go up 5-2 with 6:08 on the clock. Elise Norwood recovered the goal for Australia at the 3:43 mark on a nearside, extra-player goal from the right side about three meters out. Nikita Cuffe netted another goal for the Aussies from the left post on a counterattack crosspass to make it 5-4. A shot by Beauregard in the final seconds of the quarter hit the crossbar, ricocheted off the back of LaMarre’s head and out of bounds.
Beauregard found Ellen Estes (Novato, CA/Stanford) in the hole for a score with 3:55 left in the fourth quarter to give the U.S. a 6-4 lead, a valuable cushion as it turns out. The American defense buttoned down in the fourth quarter, holding Australia scoreless until Castle found the net with 37 seconds remaining in the game to make it 6-5. Australia pressed the U.S. hard on its final possession, winding the game clock down to 11 seconds and the shot clock down to :02, but Villa drew an exclusion out on the perimeter on Kate Gynther to give the U.S. all the breathing room it needed to secure the win.
“We haven’t had much practice up to this point because we’ve been doing a lot of conditioning,” U.S. head coach Guy Baker said. “So at times, it really showed. But we had a few moments of brilliance that were good to see on opening night.”
All six of Team USA’s goals came from different players. Goalkeeper Nicolle Payne (Cerritos, CA/UCLA/New York Athletic Club) hauled down six saves for the U.S., two of them coming on Aussie power plays. Estes, who scored a goal, earned four ejections at set for Team USA.
The U.S. will continue play tomorrow (Dec. 4) with a pair of games. At 12:30 p.m., the U.S. will battle it out with Olympic and World Championships bronze medal winner Russia. In the evening session, the World Champs will square off with continental rival Canada in a 7:30 p.m. game.
Other Game Summaries:
Game 1 – Canada 10, Italy 10
Ann Dow earned Canada a 10-10 tie with former World Champion Italy on a long skip shot with 1:19 left to go in the fourth quarter in the opening game of the 2003 Holiday Cup.
Canada, the fourth-place finisher at the 2003 World Championships, came out firing and went up 2-0 on player-advantage goals by Andrea Dewar and Susan Gardiner early in the fourth quarter, but Italy, who garnered silver at Worlds, regained its composure and only trailed by one goal (4-3) by the end of the first.
Italy’s Alexandra Araujo, who finished the game with three goals, tacked her first of the game on the board with 4:26 to play in the second quarter to catch Canada at 4-4. From there, the teams traded goals to tie six more times.
Canada broke from an 8-8 tie in the fourth quarter on a player-up score by Marianne Illing, but Italy rattled off the next two goals to take a 10-9 lead. But Canadian veteran Ann Dow launched a shot from the perimeter with 1:19 left that skimmed the water’s surface and found some space in the low left corner to tie the score at 10-10.
Araujo and Tanya di Mario each scored three goals to lead Italy. Seven players combined for Canada’s 10 goals. Both teams made good on getting 6-on-5 chances. A total of 24 ejections, 12 on each team, were called in the game.
Game 2 – Russia 12, Netherlands 9
Eight-time World Cup winner Holland couldn’t get things together on the player-advantage, shooting only 1-for-6 in a 12-9 loss to Olympic and World Championships bronze medallist Russia.
Russia plowed out to a 5-2 lead early in the ballgame, but the Dutch rallied to within two at 5-3 early in the second quarter. Both teams managed four goals apiece in the third quarter, but the Netherlands still trailed 11-8. A natural score by Marlies Wekdam brought the Netherlands to within one at 9-8 at 1:51 of the third quarter, but the Russians connected for two in a row to make it 11-8.
Dutch star Karin Kuipers put up eight shots for the, but only connected twice. Marlies Wekdam led the Netherlands with three scores in the loss. Tatyana Serebryakova and Ekaterina Salimova led the Russian charge with three goals each.