U.S. Women’s Water Polo Tops Hungary, Faces Italy In Final

Photo Courtesy: Andrew P. Scott-USA TODAY Sports


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By Dan D’Addona
The U.S. women’s water polo team is one win away from the first golden repeat.

The Americans defeated Hungary 14-10 on Wednesday to reach the gold medal match of the 2016 Rio Olympics and will look to become the first team since women’s water polo became an Olympic sport to win back-to-back gold medals.

The U.S. will face Italy in Friday’s final.

Maggie Steffens scored four goals to pace the U.S. offensive attack, but it wasn’t easy.

Hungary was the first team to score in double digits against the U.S. in the tournament, led by Rita Keszthelyi’s four goals.

Barbara Bujka scored to pull the Hungarians within a goal in the second quarter, but the U.S. responded with four goals, including two on power plays by Maddie Musselman. Kaleigh Gilchrist added a goal to push the U.S. lead to 8-4 late in the second quarter.

The Hungarians again made a run before Steffens scored twice and Kiley Neushel added a goal that sealed the victory and a spot in the gold medal match.

The win was the 21st consecutive win for the Americans, which have won all five matches in Rio by a combined 61-27 goal differential.

“We were complete offensively and complete in terms of our effort,” U.S. coach Adam Krikorian said. “We didn’t lose focus but I do think we could have done a better job defensively. We haven’t given up 10 goals in a long time. Hungary is a great offensive team so we knew it was going to be a challenge but I wish we could have done a little better job defensively.”

Bujka was who the U.S. keyed on.

“She’s an excellent player and really dangerous. We knew going in that we would have to pay extra attention to her when we were on defense,” Krikorian said. “We wanted to make things difficult for her as much as possible. We were fortunate that she picked up a couple of fouls early on. That made us change the game-plan and start attacking her a little more.”

Italy is also unbeaten in Rio after a 12-9 victory over Russia in the other semifinal. The Italians have outscored their opponents in Rio by a combined 51-31.

Arianna Garibotti scored five goals and Giulia Gorlero made nine saves to lead the Italians. Roberta Bianconi and Chiari Tabani added two goals apiece.

Russia was led by Evgeniya Ivanova and Ekaterina Lisunova, who each scored twice.

Italy is looking to earn a second gold medal after winning in Athens in 2004.

Whichever team wins will be the first women’s team to earn multiple gold medals, making Friday’s final even more historical.

“Besides us they have obviously been the hottest team in this tournament,” Krikorian said. “I watched a little bit of their semifinal and I saw how well they were shooting the ball from the outside. Their defense has been really good and their goalie is playing fantastic. It’s going to be a heck of a battle and we are going to have our hands full. No doubt about that.”