By Eric Velazquez
Baker’s Dozen Heads to Semis, Earns Berth in Medal Round
Sydney, Australia—For a team that has lived, worked, practiced, and played together for the better part of the last two years, Wednesday’s (Sept. 20) 9-6 victory over Kazakhstan was a huge benchmark. The USA women’s water polo team secured itself a berth in the medal round of the first ever Olympic tournament for the sport with the win, crossing off part one of its Sydney checklist.
The next “to-do”? Bring home some of the hardware.
“This was a big game for us because it put us in for sure,” said U.S. head coach Guy Baker. “One of our goals was to get this far so we could play for a medal. We’ve done that, but there’s still some work ahead.”
Work is one way to put it. The U.S. will next face reigning World Cup champion Holland in semifinal action on Friday (Sept. 22). Holland was mentioned among the tournament’s gold medal favorites heading into the Olympics, but lost its opener against the United States on Saturday (Sept. 16).
“They’re a strong team,” said Baker. “But this tournament is full of good teams. We were going to have a tough time, no matter who we faced.”
The U.S. had a little bit easier going with tonight with winless Kazakhstan tonight. Veteran utility player Maureen O’Toole gave the U.S. a lead 32
seconds into the game with her fifth goal of the tournament, and they never looked back. Short of ties by Kazakhstan at 2-2 and 3-3, Team USA cruised the rest of the evening on its way to a 9-6 win. Somewhere along the way, Brenda Villa decided that she was going to make a night of it. The 20-year-old playmaker ended up with the best scoring night of any player thus far in the tourney, netting four goals by the time the
waters had settled.
“I was just getting some good looks at the goal,” she said. “But offense isn’t everything.”
Robin Beauregard, who sat out last night’s contest with Australia, returned to score a goal for the U.S. She was joined in the score column by teammates
Ericka Lorenz, Coralie Simmons, and Courtney Johnson, each of whom scored one apiece.
Goalkeepers Bernie Orwig and Nicolle Payne split halves in the net for Team USA, each notching three saves.
After going 3-for-13 last night on man-advantage opportunities, Baker’s Dozen made up a little ground, going 5-for-10 on the night. The U.S. still leads the field in the category, connecting 55.6% of the time (20-for-36). The U.S. will take on Holland Friday (Sept. 22), at 7:15 p.m. at Ryde Aquatic Center.
Up Next for the U.S.:
The U.S. will take on Holland Friday (Sept. 22) in semifinal action at Ryde Aquatic Center. A win here will push the U.S. into Saturday’s gold medal game at 9:15 p.m. In that game, the U.S. will meet either Australia or Russia, who go into semis as the No. 1 and No. 4 seeds, respectively. Team USA defeated Holland in the opening game of the tournament, 6-4.
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