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

USA's Melissa Seidemann defending Holland's Ilse Koolhaus. Photo Courtesy: USA Water Polo

PRINCETON, NJ. After having not lost in 624 days — a span of 64 matches — the U.S. Senior Women’s Water Polo team twice stared down defeat before rallying to beat the Netherlands 23-22 via penalty shots on Day Two of the USA Water Polo Holiday Cup. It was such a crazy game — one day after the American women had stuffed Russia 9-5 in a defensive slog — that U.S. Head Coach Adam Krikorian could only shake his head in disbelief after his team gave up more goals in a game than they had at any time during their run of success.

usawp“I hope the fans enjoyed today because that was exciting for [them],” Krikorian said after the match. “I don’t know if it’s exciting for the coaches… [it’s] not for my liking. Too much scoring.”

He added: “For someone who is more defensive minded, that was a tough game to watch.”

The U.S. win in dramatic fashion capped an evening of exciting action at Princeton’s De Nunzio Pool. In the earlier game, Italy came from behind to tie Russia late before capturing an 18-16 win, also on penalty shots. It made for a fantastic second day of action in The Garden State, as five of the top women’s teams in the world —Canada had the day off —compete this week to advance to the finals on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.

Tuesday’s matches: Canada vs. Italy and Russia vs. Netherlands; both can be streamed via Facebook here.

All offense as defense takes the night off

As Krikorian phrased it, the USA vs, Holland match was a tale of two sides; phenomenal offense and awful defense. For the visitors, Maud Megens found the back of the net six times, including two successful penalty shots, while teammates Kitty Lynn Joustra and Bente Rogge had four scores each. Sabrina Van der Sloot, the brilliant Dutch attacker, had three scores, but  her miss in the shootout allowed the U.S. to escape with the win.

The Americans, with ten players scoring, were more balanced in their attack, as Alys Williams and Stephania Haralabidis both registered hat-tricks. Not including the shootout, there were 11 lead changes, and the score was tied ten times, including 18-all at the end of regulation.


Holland’s Sabrina van der Sloot. Photo Courtesy: FINA

Midway through the second period, the U.S. took a 7-4 lead on a goal by Haralabidis, which was their biggest of the game. When Joustra, Maud Koopman and Van der Sloot scored in succession to close out the third period, the Netherlands had a 17-15 lead and the U.S. streak was very much in jeopardy.

[Want to See the World’s Greatest Water Polo Players? They’re in New Jersey This Week]

But you don’t win so many times in a row — or enjoy the success the Americans have, including back-to-back Olympic gold medals — without being able to dig down deep and rally. Which is what they did. With five minutes left, Rachel Fattal converted a beautiful pass from Maggie Steffens to make it a one goal game. A minute later Steffens got her team even with a great finish off a helper from Kiley Neushul.

The Dutch again took the lead, as Rogge scored with three minutes to go, but a steal by Aria Fischer with a minute and half remaining led to a goal by Haralabidis, knotting the score at 18. Both teams had chances to win it in regulation, but neither could take advantage, including a last second scoring attempt in front of the U.S. goal by Brigitte Sleeking that was broken up by Team USA’s Maddie Musselman.

Johnson stands tall in goal

Johnson came on in relief at intermission after Amanda Longan gave up 10 goals in half, but the American’s all-world goalie couldn’t stem the offensive tide. It wasn’t until the shoot-out that her brilliance shown through, as she turned aside three Dutch attempts, none larger than when Van der Sloot was aiming for the win. Johnson stopped her and then — following a successful conversion by Kaleigh Gilchrist — ended the match with a stop on Rogge, giving her team yet another victory.


USA’s Ashleigh Johnson. Photo Courtesy: Mariana Bazo

For an American squad hat always strives for perfection, there are important lessons to be learned from this match — examples that will be applied in pursuit of a third-straight Olympic Gold next summer in Tokyo. That they rallied from a two-goal deficit in the fourth period — the first time within memory that they’ve trailed so late in a game — and that goalie Johnson and her veteran teammates will come up big when called upon.

What may be most unsettling to American opponents is, after escaping with a sloppy though entertaining win, the Americans will double down on their work ethic — so they’ll be even better next time.

“It’s my job to make sure that we stay as focused as possible,” Krikorian said about the constant pressure to succeed his players are faced with. “That game is going to give us a lot of info — a lot of video to go back to and keep us humble, hungry and allow us to stay focused.”

Imagine that; after being perfect for more than 20 months — and winning every major (and minor) tournament that the water polo world has to offer — Team USA will look to get even better.

If Krikorian and his players have their way, this streak of success will likely never end. One game at a time.

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