Will This Team Ever Lose? U.S. Women Beat Netherlands for 2019 USAWP Holiday Cup Title, Run Win Streak to 68

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Defense was the focus for Team USA in a rematch against the Netherlands for the 2019 Holiday Cup. Photo Courtesy: Sherie Key/USAWP

The winning continues for the U.S. Senior Women’s Water Polo Team. On Saturday at the DeNunzio Pool in Princeton they overwhelmed the Netherlands early to take a 12-6 decision in the final of the 2019 USA Water Polo Holiday Cup.

usawpWith the win — their 68th straight dating back to April 2018 — the Americans finish 2019 with a sparkling 37-0 record. Since the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, where they won a second-consecutive gold medal, Team USA has gone an astonishing 108-2. The only blemishes on their record the last three years are losses to Australia in May of 2017 and April of 2018.

U.S. Head Coach Adam Krikorian, now in his tenth season leading the U.S. senior women, sought to downplay his team’s unparalleled success.

“We don’t care about the streak,” he said on the DeNunzio pool deck earlier in the week. “I know everyone loves to talk about [it], but our focus is on the process and the details within every game.”

That focus was evident on Saturday. In stark contrast to the previous match between the two teams, where the Americans and Dutch women combined for 45 goals in a 23-22 U.S. win via penalties, the Holiday Cup final was decidedly one-sided. Team USA broke out to an 8-1 lead before intermission, then cruised until a handful of late Dutch scores made the result appear more competative than it actually was.

[USA Water Polo Holiday Cup: US Women Escape with Win On Penalties in Sudden Death; Streak Now at 65]

For the victorious Americans, Kiley Neushel had four goals and played outstanding defense. Maddie Musselman delivered three goals while Ashleigh Johnson stopped 12 Dutch attempts — a day after a stellar 16-save effort against Italy, which saw her successfully defend two five-meter penalty attempts.

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USA’s Kiley Neushul. Photo Courtesy: Sherie Key/USAWP

For Holland, Dagmar Genee and Brigitte Sleeking had two goals apiece. Head coach Arno Havenga rotated goalies Joanne Koenders (9 saves) and Debby Willemsz (3) as he searches for a replacement to Laura Aarts formerly the top Dutch goalie who quit the team earlier this year.

U.S. opens fast and just keeps going

Kiley Neushul made a steal and scored on a break-away in the first minute of play, and when Alys Williams followed up with a power play goal a minute later, it signaled that the U.S. would not allow for the same pace from the week’s earlier match. The Americans broke out to an early four goal lead after the first period. The Netherlands did not score until midway through the second when they were already down 6 goals.

The half ended with scores by Musselman and Neushul, making it was apparent that a monumental second–half effort would be needed for a Dutch revival. That never came; instead, Musselman connected midway through the third corner to extend the U.S. advantage to eight before Sleeking temporarily stopped the defensive bleeding and making the score 9-2.

The Dutch saved face in the fourth, scoring three straight times after another Williams’ goal to trim their deficit to five, But, a quick score by Makenzie Williams made it 11-5, and after Maud Megens’ only goal of the day —she scored five times on Tuesday — Jamie Neushul closed out the scoring with 30 seconds left.

Streaks are made to be broken… eventually

With the strongest women’s side in the sport, and one that simply refuses to lose, it’s a challenge for Krikorian to keep his players focused on the primary goal: winning a third-straight Olympic gold. That accomplishment would equal the dominant Hungarian men’s squads from earlier in the century, who won in 2000, 2004, 2008.

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USA’s Adam Krikorian flanked by Dan Klatt , Rachal Fattal and Chris Oeding. Photo Courtesy: Sherie Key/USAWP

Their opponents certainly acknowledge the history Team USA. Havenga — part of the coaching staff that thwarted American aspirations when the Netherlands captured gold at the 2008 Beijing Olympics — acknowledged that Krikorian has built what amounts to an unstoppable program.

“They have very, very, very good players,” Havenga said. “They have an extraordinary goalie. Adam is doing a really good job; he creates a team strategy.

“[T]his all together makes them almost unbeatable,” he added.

The American coach, who was on deck for both previous Olympic gold-winning efforts, acknowledged the distractions that streaks create — even though they are an obvious marker of his team’s ability.

“When you are obsessed on the details, and the minute things that go into success, and that is your focus, you don’t think of winning and losing, let alone a streak,” Krikorian said. “That’s part of my job — to make sure we stay as focused as possible.”

And leave speculation to everyone else.

Russia wins again; captures third place

After opening the tournament with three losses, including a disappointing decision to Italy after leading late, Russia won for the second straight day, beating Italy 14-9 win in the third-place match. Elvina Karimova and Anastasia Fedotova scored three goals to pace the Russians; the Italians were led by Claudia Marletta (three goals), Carla Carrega and Giulia Enrica Emmolo with two apiece.

In the final standings, the U.S. finished 5-0; the Netherlands, Italy and Russia were all 2-3 and the Canadians finished 1-3.

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