ATHENS, Greece, August 26. EARLY firepower and late heroics resulted in a medal-winning victory as the United States edged Australia 6-5 to take the bronze in Women's Water Polo, according to reports from Athens organizers and USA Water Polo.
The United States led 4-0 by half time. Australia's Elise NORWOOD, Kate GYNTHER and Belinda BROOKS scored for Australia in the second half, as the Australians tied the match 5-5 in the fourth period.
It was left to US veteran Elen Estes to score one of her three goals with 2:20 remaining in the game for what proved to be the game winner at the Olympic Aquatic Centre Main Pool on Thursday (August 26).
Team captain Heather Moody summed up the American’s thoughts. "We were really focused on the game, so we won the bronze medal. We are satisfied with winning the bronze. We wanted to go back to the USA with a medal. Our goal was to win the gold medal but these are the Olympic Games and any medal is still a success."
The game was a re-match of the gold medal match from Sydney won by the Aussies.
"I was just thinking about what I could do to help the team," Estes said of her three-goal performance. "I was trying to perform in my role, which is to score out of set or on 6-on- 5s. It was basically me trying to do everything possible to make sure we won the game."
Italy Wins Gold Medal
In this year's gold-medal game, host Greece took on world No. 2 Italy, which had edged the USA to reach the title clash, in another tight contest. In overtime, the lead changed hands twice, and Italy ended up with the game-winner from Melania Grego to claim gold with a 10-9 decision.
Bronze Medal Game Story
Both the U.S. women and the Aussies started out with poor passes on their first possessions, but a few saves from Frank helped make up for a pair of 6-on-5 failures by Team USA. Neither team was able to get to the back of the net by the end of the first quarter, leaving it scoreless for the second.
Natalie Golda (Fullerton, CA/UCLA/New York AC) ended the slump for the U.S. women to kick off the second frame, slamming home a 6-on-5 score to make it 1-0. Estes boosted her squad up 2-0 on a score off the counterattack. Her powerful strike tipped off an Aussie defender's fingers and into the back of the cage with 4:02 left in the half. Team USA's defense continued to stifle the Aussies. And its offense seemed to find its groove as well. Beauregard unleashed one of her meanest skip shot that drilled by Australian goalie Jemma Brownlow, and the U.S. women were up 3-0.
Ericka Lorenz put up a field block against and Aussie power play next, and their next shot sailed high to keep Australia 0-for-2 on players advantages. That fed right into the U.S. counterattack, and a nearside skip from Amber Stachowski (Rancho Santa Margarita, CA/UCLA) pumped the score to 4-0 USA. U.S. captain Heather Moody (Green River, WY/San Diego State/New York AC) — after working hard at two meters on offense — slammed down a defensive block against Australia late in the second quarter to help hold the Aussies scoreless in the half.
"The nice thing about our team is you have to pick our poison," Estes said. "If they're going to drop back on us (at center), our outside shooters are going to be open. And today they were harder outside and we were wide open on the post a lot. It was our chance to show that we were threats."
On its third 6-on-5 chance of the game, Australia called timeout to try to organize itself against the stubborn U.S. defense. Time ran out on the Aussies, but Elise Norwood managed to score from the top with the teams even. That made it 4-1 at 5:35 in the third. Beauregard nabbed a steal at two meters on Australia's next trip down. Team USA couldn't score on that possession, but Estes made quick work of the next pass into her at set, ripping in a backhand for a 5-1 lead. Australia answered when Kate Gythner scored off a nice crossing pass, and then Belinda Brooks scored Australia's first 6-on-5 to pull within two at 5-3 with 2:25 left in the period. Moody earned Team USA one last 6-on-5 opportunity in the frame, and U.S. coach Guy Baker called a timeout to get his troops organized with 18 seconds left, but Estes couldn't control the pass into two meters before the buzzer sounded.
Joanne Fox then made it three straight scores for Australia when her shot from the perimeter deflected off Frank's hands to the bar and then floated across the line, and it was a one-goal game with 6:28 left to play. Brooks tied it up a minute later with another score from the top that was tipped just enough by a U.S. defender. Now locked up 5-5, Team USA was under the gun.
The USA's next player advantage also passed it by, and the next was stopped by Brownlow. On their third 6-on-5 opportunity of the quarter, the U.S. women made good. Beauregard hit Estes at two meters, and she blazed in the go-ahead score for her third goal of the game. The score was then 6-5 USA with 2:20 on the clock. Another power play followed for Team USA, but Golda's shot careened off the bar and out of bounds. Australia was next to call timeout with 1:12 remaining.
In the final minute, Beauregard picked up the pass into two meters for a U.S. steal, putting Team USA on the attack with 38 seconds left. Australia had the last chance, but Mel Rippon's shot was sucked in by Frank, and the U.S. women had bronze.
Team USA 0 4 1 1 — 6
Australia 0 0 3 2 — 5
Team USA: Estes 3, Golda 1, Beauregard 1, Stachowski 1
Australia: Brooks 2, Norwood 1, Gynther 1, Fox 1
Team USA: Frank 7
Australia: Brownlow 5
Player Advantage Scoring
Team USA: 2 for 8
Australia: 1 for 4
Referees: Peter Bookelman (Netherlands), Torsten Bock (Germany)
Delegate: Monica Graciela Brochero (Argentina)
Final Group A Standings Win Loss Tie G.F. G.A. G.D. Points
Australia 2 0 1 22 16 +6 5
Italy 2 1 0 20 14 +6 4
Greece 1 1 1 17 20 -3 3
Kazakhstan 0 3 0 16 25 -9 0
Final 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
Hungary* 1 2 0 19 20 -1 2
Canada 1 2 0 16 18 -2 2
* — Team USA earned tiebreaker through head-to-head win over Russia; Hungary
earned tiebreaker through head-to-head win over Hungary.
USA Men Play Australia for a Shot at Seventh
The U.S. men are coming off a bye on the quarterfinals day on their way into Friday's game with Australia. Team USA has a chance to finish the Games in seventh place if it can get past Australia on Friday (August 27). The game is set to start at 10:45 a.m. The Aussies finished fifth in Group B and beat Kazakhstan 10-5 on Wednesday to move into the game with the United States. Team USA and Australia's last meeting was during their FINA World League series. After posting a 10-7 win over the Aussies the previous night, the U.S. men were forced into a penalty shootout the next evening and fell 11-9 to Australia. That game was markedly physical, hinting at a repeat performance of the intense matchup. Aussie goalie James Stanton came up big in that victory, registering 15 saves. Pietro Figlioli and captain Nathan Thomas are two of Australia's top offensive threats. The winner of this game will play for seventh place against either Italy or Croatia, and the loser will play for ninth place against the loser of that Italy-Croatia match.
"For these next games, we just want to do whatever we can. It's hard, but we're going to get up for it and try to do our best," U.S. captain Wolf Wigo said.