Hungary Snaps U.S. Women’s Water Polo’s 12-Game Olympic Winning Streak

Jul 28, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Hungary player Rebecca Parkes (6) is defended by USA player Alys Williams (12) in a group B match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports
U.S. women's water polo's Alys Williams, center, defends Hungary's Rebecca Parkes during their game Wednesday; Photo Courtesy: James Lang/USA TODAY Sports

Hungary Snaps U.S. Women’s Water Polo’s 12-Game Olympic Winning Streak

It had been 13 years and 12 Olympic games since the U.S. women’s water polo team last tasted defeat. Hungary ended that streak on Wednesday.

A goal by Rebecca Parkes with 45 seconds to play tilted a seesaw battle in favor of Hungary, giving it a 10-9 win over the United States at the Tatsumi Aquatic Centre.

The United States went up 8-6 with 2:45 left in the third quarter, the biggest lead either team had in a nip-and-tuck affair. But Parkes scored at 6:26 of the fourth, then Vanda Valyi tied the game less than a minute later. Melissa Seidemann nudged the U.S. back ahead with 2:28 remaining, but Rita Kesztheyli re-knotted the game with an extra-player goal at 1:53, setting up Parkes’ heroics.

Jul 28, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; USA player Madeline Musselman (2) prepares to shoot against Hungary in a group B match during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Maddie Musselman; Photo Courtesy: James Lang/USA TODAY Sports

“I thought we played hard, we played so tough,” U.S. coach Adam Krikorian said. “It was similar to the China game when we had a really difficult time just putting the ball in the back of the net. We wish we would have finished off the game, but we’ll learn from this and move on. The game was super physical, the most physical game that we played in the last 13 or 17 games that we’ve had leading up to this.”

The loss drops the U.S. women’s water polo to 2-1 in pool play. It’s the first loss for the two-time defending champion since the gold-medal game in Beijing in 2008. The U.S. had not lost in 2021 and had suffered just four setbacks since the Rio Olympics.

“We’re going in to every game taking our competitors seriously,” Seidemann said. “We haven’t lost a lot but the way the media portrays that discredits our opponents as everyone’s so good. It’s not a surprise to us. We knew it was going to be a battle and we look forward to the next time we get to see them.”

Maddie Musselman registered a hat trick for the U.S. Rachel Fattal and Makenzie Fischer scored twice each. Maggie Steffens was held again to one goal; she’s three shy of the Olympic record for goals scored. Ashleigh Johnson was under 50 percent with nine saves on 19 shots.

Parkes tallied a hat trick for Hungary. Valyi and Keszthelyi scored twice each, and Alda Magyari made 11 saves, including a stop on Fischer with 21 seconds left. Musselman had hit the post with 1:31 to play and the game tied at 9.

“This is a very great achievement and experience,” Magyari said. “It gives us huge energy and confidence for the future and for the next matches.  It was a very, very great thing for us. It was a huge thing to beat the world champions, but we mustn’t believe that we are better than anyone else. We have to take this tournament step-by-step.”

The challenge for U.S. women’s water polo, with two pool-play games remaining, is to learn from the setback and improve.

” Maybe you wouldn’t believe this, but when you imagine the game, I think it’s unrealistic to think you always imagine winning,” Krikorian said. “I’ve certainly imagined losing before and that mental preparation is part of this experience. It (losing) hasn’t happened in a while, but at the same time it’s happened in my mind many times.”