BOCA RATON, Florida, Aug. 18. THE U.S. women's junior water polo team concluded its sweep at the Junior Pan American Championships, downing Canada 7-5 in the gold medal game to secure a berth at next year's FINA Junior World Championships.
The U.S. men secured their berth as well, but not in the style that they'd hoped for. The men will advance by way of the silver medal after a 5-3 loss to Brazil in today's championship game.
The USA women pummeled opponents all week long in Boca Raton en route to today's final. The two-goal victory over Canada was, by far, its smallest margin of victory.
Kelly Rulon, the tournament's top scorer with 15 goals, opened the U.S. scoring with 5:08 to play in the first, and Kristina Kunkel added another at the 1:02 mark to make the score 2-0. Krista Peterson gave the U.S. a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter on a player-advantage goal.
Two more goals by Rulon in the third helped Team USA rumble out to a 5-1 lead heading into the final quarter. Another by Rulon and one by Moriah van Norman propelled the U.S. to a 7-1 advantage early in the fourth, but Canada was just getting started. A few defensive breakdowns allowed Canada to go on a 4-0 run, but the U.S. regrouped and held on for the 7-5 win.
U.S. head coach Amber Drury-Pinto was pleasantly surprised with how well her team performed in the tournament.
"We were really challenged this week," she said. "We weren't challenged physically as much as we were mentally, but I was pleased with how we responded. Considering how little time we had to prepare as a team for this tournament, I think we did great."
As far as Drury-Pinto is concerned, the Pan Ams were just a preparation pit stop. "Now we're just going to look ahead to Junior Worlds," she said. "We have a pretty good mix of younger and older players and I think we're going to do well."
Lauren Heineck, who dominated at both ends of the pool for the U.S., was named as the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Kelly Rulon, who scored 15 goals in six games, was the tournament's top scorer, while Canada's Rachael Ridder took home top goalkeeper honors. Eight of the tournament's top 12 scorers were from Team USA.
All week, the U.S. men's junior team managed to avoid defeat. Physically and tactically, the U.S. has been the crème de la crème of the field. But a day of miscues and missed opportunities left the U.S. with a silver medal. Not the finish that head coach Randy Burgess and company had hoped for, but they had still gained an appearance at next year's Junior World
"That was the first goal for us," said Burgess. "Of course, we wanted to win the gold today, but we're still going to Junior Worlds and we'll have a year to prepare for it."
The U.S. men also lacked any significant preparation time for Pan Ams. Aside from its five games in the Russian Invitational last month, the team hadn't played a major international competition. Talent, drive, and discipline, however, helped the U.S. to an undefeated record in pool play and an appearance in the gold medal game. But no one really gave Brazil
much of a chance at beating the U.S….except Brazil.
Brazil took a 4-0 lead early in the game, all on goals by tournament Most Valuable Player Gabriel Rocha, forcing the U.S. to have to play catch up for the duration. With 2:00 to play in the third quarter, the U.S. finally got on the board with a player-advantage goal by team captain James Shin. Brazil's Felipe Perrone picked up and scored on a free throw from
seven-meters out with 41 seconds to play in the third. Brazil pressed on defense for the remainder of the game, denying a U.S. comeback to preserve a 5-3 win.
"We had our opportunities today, but it wasn't our best game," said Burgess, whose squad shot a frigid 3-for-18 on the day. "We hit the bar a lot, we got field blocked a lot. We had a couple of opportunities early and we just couldn't finish. But take nothing away from Brazil; they were on fire. They didn't make a lot of mistakes."
The U.S. men were also a bit overmatched in the experience department, with Brazil boasting four players who participated in the first year of the FINA World Water Polo League this summer.
"We have a young group that's come a really long way," said Burgess. "We have one year to get ready for Worlds, and in January, after these guys wrap up their seasons in high school and college, we'll go back at it."
USA Junior Women
United States 2 2 1 2 — 7
Canada 0 0 1 4 — 5
USA: Rulon 4, van Norman 1, Kunkel 1, Peterson 1
Canada: La Roche 1, Campbell 1, Tomvik 1, Pardy 1, Zimmerman 1
USA Junior Women
United States 0 0 1 2 — 3
Brazil 1 2 2 0 — 5
USA: Shin 1, Hopkins 1, Hale 1
Brazil: Rocha 4, Perrone 1
4 Puerto Rico
8 Puerto Rico
Most Valuable Player – Lauren Heineck, USA
Most Valuable Player – Gabriel Rocha, Brazil
Most Valuable Goalkeeper – Rachael Riddel, Canada
Most Valuable Goalkeeper – Emanuel Giagosa, Argentina
Top Scorer – Kelly Rulon, USA (15 goals)
Top Scorer – Felipe Perrone, Brazil