18th FINA World Championships: A Numbers Game for US Women’s Water Polo

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Lefty attacker Stephania Haralabidis made the cut for the US at the 2019 FINA World Water Polo Championships. Photo Courtesy: Cathryn Hayne

Swimming World kicks off its coverage of the 2019 men’s and women’s water polo world championships. Stick with us for comprehensive coverage of this year’s most prestigious polo tournament.

With the 18th World Championship scheduled to open today in Gwangju, South Korea, one of the biggest challenges for Adam Krikorian, U.S. head women’s water polo coach has been: who’s going on the trip? The defending world champions boast nine players who helped Team USA capture gold at the 2016 Rio Games, and—with the world’s deepest reservoir of talent—anyone left States-side would likely be key contributors on other nation’s programs.

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Thanks to the inclusion by FINA of an exhibition tournament on beach water polo, all 18 current members of the U.S. National Team—as well as a few high school prospects—will be on hand for the biggest international water polo event this year.

Besides rosters—which will stay at 13 for this tournament before being trimmed to 11 for the Pan American Games, taking place early next month in Lima, Peru—the other important number for the U.S. women is three. In almost four decades of World Championships competition, no men’s or women’s program has ever won three-straight titles. Krikorian’s squad is more than talented enough to accomplish this impressive feat. But, the players he selected will not only have to overcome threats from perennial powers Holland, Hungary, Italy and Spain. They will be combating the weight of history: can one of the most impressive dynasties in polo history extend a record of excellence that dates back five years?

Wither Jordan Raney?

The last few months have been a fierce battle for inclusion on both the Pan Am and World Championship rosters, and Jordan Raney—as competitive as anyone on the U.S. squad—did not make the final cut for either team. But she will be in Gwangju with her Team USA mates; she’s one of eight American women who will play in the inaugural FINA World Championship Beach Water Polo exhibition. This consists of matches against Australia, China, Spain and—ideally—the finals match, in an above ground pool far from the South Korea shoreline.

[Water Polo Odyssey Takes Greek Women To California and Collision with Team USA]

That she’s there at all is likely a comfort to the ex-Stanford Cardinal, but her outsider status is no surprise given the depth of talent that the Americans have to choose from. Nine of the 13 U.S. players chosen for the World Championships were on the 2016 Olympic squad, including Melissa Seidemann and Maggie Steffens, who also stood on the top podium at the 2012 London Games.

The four non-Olympians competing at Worlds reflect the continues success of USC women’s program. Goalie Amanda Longan is the 2018 Cutino Award winner; she helped the Trojans to a national championship that year; Stephania Haralabidis, the 2016 Cutino Award winner, helped USC to a national championship that year; Paige Hauschild, now a USC junior, may be the best 19-year-old in the world on the women’s side. Alys Williams, a Bruin, had a very strong showing in the recent series of friendlies with the Greek National team.

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Gold for Jordan Raney—and her coach, Adam Krikorian. Photo Courtesy: MBX Foundation

For Raney, who earlier this year spent time in Greece with U.S. teammates Haralabidis and Ashleigh Johnson playing for Vouliagmeni, a professional club just outside of Athens, the uphill battle continues. A two-time NCAA champion with Stanford (2015, 2017) , Raney’s dedication to both her sport and her country is admirable; given how many talented athletes Krikorian has at his disposal, her inclusion on the Olympic squad remains a long-shot.

Noteworthy is the beach polo roster; not only does it include Raney and current national team members Brigitta Games, Jamie Neushul and Gabby Stone, but Neushul’s sister Ryann—who this year enjoyed great success as a freshman at Stanford—and high schoolers Honnie Vandeweghe-O’Shea of Santa Margarita High School and Jewel Roemer of Acalanes High School will also be competing.

Still, you have to play the games

That the U.S. remains the best women’s program in the world is reflected in the team’s remarkable success. Team USA currently boasts a 47-match win streak; over the past two and a half seasons they have lost two times—to Australia in 2017 and 2018.

[Team USA Punches Ticket In Women’s Water Polo To 2020 Olympics, Wins World League Super Final]

More impressive is American dominance of the world’s most important tournaments. With finals wins in 11 straight major championships—including back-to-back Olympic golds, consecutive World Championship titles, and everything in between dating back to 2014—it’s possible that theirs is one of the most successful runs in the sport’s history. But all things must pass, and there’s no question that a host of contenders will look to knock the U.S. off of its lofty perch, starting in Gwangju.

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Yes, everyone has a cute critter! Photo Courtesy: Gwangju2019

The prime antagonist for the Americans will likely be the Italians. Last month at the FINA World League Super Final in Budapest they pushed Team USA to the limit before Krikorian’s squad squeaked out a 10-9 victory—one which qualified them for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The Americans will be tested early by the Dutch; both teams are in Group A, which also includes New Zealand and South Africa.

Italy is in Group D with Australia, China and Japan, while Cuba, Greece, Kazakhstan and Spain—runner ups to the Americans in 2017—are in Group C. Perhaps the toughest bracket is Group B, where the Hungarians will face Russia, which won bronze in 2017, Canada, who beat them in a contentious quarterfinal match and host South Korea in round-robin play.

Beach polo will start play on Saturday with a match against China; then Raney and her mates for that squad will likely be in the stands on Sunday when Team USA gets in the water against New Zealand.

If both squads progress, the beach polo final will take place on July 18; the world championship final will happen on July 26. If America is not represented in both title matches, the 18th FINA World Championships will be memorable to U.S. fans—for the wrong reason.

USA Women’s National Team 2019 FINA World Championship Roster (Hometown/College/USA Water Polo Club)
Ashleigh Johnson (Miami, FL/Princeton/NYAC)
Amanda Longan (Moorpark, CA/USC/Santa Barbara 805)
Aria Fischer (Laguna Beach, CA/Stanford/SET)
Melissa Seidemann (Walnut Creek, CA/Stanford/NYAC)
Makenzie Fischer (Laguna Beach, CA/Stanford/SET)
Paige Hauschild (Santa Barbara, CA/USC/Santa Barbara 805)
Alys Williams (Huntington Beach, CA/UCLA/Huntington Beach WPF)
Rachel Fattal (Seal Beach, CA/UCLA/SOCAL)
Kiley Neushul (Isla Vista, CA/Stanford/NYAC)
Maddie Musselman (Newport Beach, CA/UCLA/CdM Aquatics)
Maggie Steffens (Danville, CA/Stanford/NYAC)
Stephania Haralabidis (Athens, Greece/USC/NYAC)
Kaleigh Gilchrist (Newport Beach, CA/USC/NYAC)

USA Women’s National Team 2019 FINA World Championship Beach Roster (Hometown/College/USA Water Polo Club)
Gabby Stone (La Jolla, CA/Stanford/San Diego Shores)
Jamie Neushul (Isla Vista, CA/Stanford/NYAC)
Ryann Neushul (Isla Vista, CA/Stanford/Santa Barbara 805)
Brigitta Games (Littleton, CO/USC/NYAC)
Jordan Raney (Manhattan Beach, CA/Stanford/Huntington Beach WPF)
Jewel Roemer (Martinez, CA/Acalanes HS/680 Water Polo)
Honnie Vandeweghe-O’Shea (Laguna Hills, CA/Santa Margarita HS/SET)

2 comments

  1. avatar
    Dante Dettamanti

    USA women’s soccer team—best women’s team in the world?? Not so fast! What about the USA women’s water polo team? They have actually been more successful than soccer in the past eight years. If they win this World Championship, and win gold in Tokyo, there will be no doubt that they are the best women’s team in the world in any team sport.

    • avatar
      Michael Randazzo

      Coach: did I bring in the U.S. women’s soccer team? I was certainly THINKING about them (for obvious reasons) and it’s an interesting comparison (though, let’s face it: soccer athletes get FAR more attention than those in polo).

      By the numbers the U.S. WWP team is among the most successful teams this century (I’m not up with the history here)—though I recently met someone with a connection to the U.S. women’s crew team, which has has won the gold medal at every summer Olympics since 2004, and won the World Rowing Championships from 2005 until 2016 (this is from Wikipedia).

      Having just seen the U.S. women play I agree with you: they are better than any women’s team in the world at what they do. Questions is: when will the rest of the world catch up?

      Your correspondent

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