U.S. Women’s Water Polo Opens Gold Defense with Historic Win over Japan

July 24, 2021; Tokyo, Japan; Team United States centre back Alys Williams (12) ties her cap before the match in the preliminary round Group B against Japan during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Summer Games at Tatsumi Water Polo Centre. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Network
U.S. defender Alys Williams; Photo Courtesy: Kyle Terada/USA TODAY Network

When you’re a two-time reigning Olympic champion, it takes something special to make people notice. The U.S. women’s water polo team obliged Saturday.

The U.S. deluged Japan in its opener at the Tokyo Olympics, scoring 22 of the game’s final 23 goals in a 25-4 win to open the group stage at the Tatsumi Water Polo Center.

The 25 goals are the most in Olympic history, which dates to 2000. It surpasses the 16 scored by China and Australia in matches at the 2012 London Games. The 14 goals scored in the first half is the most in a half in Olympic history; the 11 from the second half is second-most. (The previous record of 10 was achieved four times.) The 21-goal margin of victory trounces the 13 goals that Australia beat Great Britain by in 2012.

“It’s the first game of the Olympics,” U.S. coach Adam Krikorian said. “I mean, the very first one, and those jitters aren’t going to go away, I can guarantee you, for us or for any other team. It’s just great to get a feel for it and you’ve got to learn how to play with them. It’s not the first time we’ve been nervous, despite how much success we have. We’re human, and we get nervous just like everyone else. So sometimes it just gets us, and once we settled down, we were much better.”

The game was tied at 3 in the first quarter, but it didn’t stay that way for long, the U.S. leading by an 8-3 margin at the end of the one frame. They didn’t stop there, backed by Ashleigh Johnson stopping 15 of the 19 shots she faced.

Maggie Steffens, who entered the game needing 10 goals to become the all-time leading scorer in women’s Olympic water polo history, got halfway there with five. Stephanie Haralabidis scored five times in her Olympic debut, and Maddie Musselman and Aria Fischer scored four times apiece.

It’s no surprise that the U.S. women’s water polo team have come out firing. The gold medalists in Rio and London, the U.S. has medaled in all five previous Olympic tournaments. It had a 69-match winning streak come to an end in early 2020, a rare interruption of a dominant recent few years.

Even so, taking part in the first game of the tournament, Krikorian needed to calm his players down a tad.

“It was more just trying to calm them down, and sometimes I don’t need to say anything, and they’re fine,” he said. “Less coaching is better coaching sometimes.”

The U.S. rattled off six unanswered in the second quarter, thanks to two from Haralabidis. The U.S. went 6-for-9 on power plays. Paige Hauschild and Kaleigh Gilchrist scored twice each.

The U.S. limited Japan’s star Yumi Arima to just one goal. Miku Koide scored twice for Japan.