PALO ALTO, July 7. FOR the championship game of the Holiday Cup women's water-polo tournament, U.S. coach Guy Baker wanted his team to be more offensive-minded against Canada. In the end, the only one who minded all the offense was Canada.
With Coralie Simmons pouring in four goals and Brenda Villa three, the Americans defeated the Canadians 8-6 Sunday night at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Complex for their third straight Holiday Cup title.
Simmons, of UCLA, led the four-day tournament with seven goals but it was Stanford's Villa who was named most valuable player. Either way, it was mission accomplished.
"Sometimes I can come out and get some goals," Simmons said. "I wanted to come out firing, getting natural goals, meaning no man-advantage. Our defense is always there but we wanted to get some offensive power."
Proving she's a good listener, Simmons took all of 16 seconds at the start of the game to put the yellow ball into the net, on a skip shot past Canadian goalie Whynter Lamarre.
"I liked it," said Baker, whose team leaves today for a tournament in Rome. "We've been trying to emphasize offense, and I thought we made an improvement over the last time we played. We scored 16 seconds into the game. I thought we had some beautiful goals."
Defensively, the U.S. stymied Canada whenever it had a 6-on-5 advantage. Canada converted just one goal on seven man-advantage situations.
With few, if any exceptions, this is the U.S. team that will play in the Athens Olympics in 2004. To guarantee a spot in the Olympic tournament, the U. S. must win next year's Pan American Games in the Dominican Republic, where the main hemispheric competition will come from Canada and Brazil.
At this Holiday Cup, the Americans played Canada to a 2-2 tie on Thursday and then pasted Brazil 14-2 the next day. Sunday night's final represented an improvement for the U.S.
"It was great," Villa said. "We're trying to be in an offensive mode. Our coach is trying to get us to be more of an offensive team. I felt we did that today. It was a good day at the office."
The U.S. took a 2-1 lead at the end of the first period as Cal's Ericka Lorenz scored the other goal. Villa scored again in the second period and the Americans took a 3-2 lead into what is the shortest halftime break (two minutes) of any team sport.
The Americans broke the game open in the third period as Simmons scored twice and Villa once. Just like that, Canada was down three goals, 6-3.
Villa's shot was partially blocked by Lamarre but the ball crossed the line and was ruled a goal. Simmons' first goal of the period was a nice piece of solo work. Swimming with the ball on water polo's equivalent of a fast break, she faked once and fired the ball into the right corner of the net. Her next goal was a skipper from the left side.
Simmons and Villa each put in a goal in the fourth period as Canada tried to catch up with three goals from Melissa Collins, Cora Campbell and Andrea Dewar. This California-dominated team has been together since June 18 as it begins a long build up to the 2004 Olympics.
This week's tournament in Italy is another opportunity for the 2000 Olympic silver medal U.S. team to gain experience against such top teams as Australia (2000 Olympic gold medalist), Russia (bronze medalist), Italy (2001 World Champion), Canada and Greece.
"Any time you play Canada, it's only going to help us for the future," Villa said. "At the Pan American Games, Canada and Brazil are the teams we have to play to get that Olympic spot."
In the earlier consolation game, Japan defeated Brazil 6-5.