USA Water Polo to Play for Gold Medal After Beating ROC in Semifinals

usa-water-pol-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

The USA Water Polo team is just one victory away from winning three consecutive women’s Olympic gold medals.

Team USA defeated the Russian Olympic Committee 15-11 in the semifinals in Tokyo to advance to the gold medal match.

Maddie Musselman came up huge, scoring five goals, four in the second half, to lead the Team USA charge while Ashleigh Johnson recorded eight saves including several key blocks in the fourth quarter.

“When you’re a shooter, you’ve got to shoot,” USA Water Polo coach Adam Krikorian said of Musselman. “That’s your job. When the opportunity exists, you can’t hesitate, she didn’t hesitate tonight. No matter how many shots you missed before, you got to go with the same courage, the same aggressiveness and she did that. She was huge for us, especially in the second half.”

Team USA now moves on to the gold medal game on Saturday in Tokyo where they will meet the winner of Spain/Hungary. The match is currently scheduled for 4:30pm local time in Tokyo on Saturday/12:30am pacific/3:30am eastern. A replay of the USA-ROC match will air as part of Olympic coverage on NBC starting at 12pm et/9am pt and on USA Network starting at 10am eastern/7am pacific. A replay of the live stream is available by clicking here.

“You probably saw the passion that comes with not only scoring goals but getting stops on defense,” Musselman said. “It’s huge when we’re able to do that. Every piece goes together. It’s not just one person making a block. It’s what happened right before that. You can feel the energy ricocheting off each other. That’s special and I don’t know if all teams have that.”

It was clear from the opening moments, this was not the ROC of old, the one that lost in group play to Team USA 18-5 and also lost to Team USA by double figures in three exhibition games in early July. This ROC was the aggressor from the jump, opening with a 1-0 lead just ninety seconds into the match. After Rachel Fattal and Maggie Steffens strung together goals for a 2-1 lead, ROC came right back with two straight for a 3-2 lead with a little more than three minutes to go in the period. Moments later Ashleigh Johnson let a full court shot fly, just barring out, leaving ROC ahead 3-2 going into the second.

ROC built on their lead in the second, scoring two straight, the last from Maria Bersneva for a 5-2 edge with 3:24 left in the first half. The two sides kept trading goals but ROC always had an answer. A goal from Ekaterina Prokofyeva gave ROC a 7-4 advantage with :48 left in the first half. Undeterred, USA Water Polo got back to work quickly. Musselman hit for her first goal and then Melissa Seidemann connected from long distance with just one second left in the half. That brought Team USA all the way back to within one at 7-6 going into intermission.

“Great lift. She gave us a huge lift today in general, just with her presence defending the center position,” Krikorian said. “That shot was huge. It helped us kind of settle down going into halftime.”

Early in the third quarter Steffens hit on a power play to even the score at 7-7. ROC re-took the lead moments later at 8-7 but that was short-lived. Makenzie Fischer, Musselman and Steffens scored in succession and Team USA built their largest lead of the match at 10-8. After ROC got back within one, Musselman delivered on a second chance on a USA power play for an 11-9 lead with 1:01 to go in the third and that was the score going to the fourth.

ROC was far from done in this match as they battled back once more, using the blueprint that earned them a lead early. Two power play goals in a row tied the match at 11-11 with 5:30 to play in the game. From there, the USA Water Polo defense clamped down while the offense started clicking once again. Aria Fischer muscled a goal home out of two meters for a 12-11 lead. Less than two minutes later Alys Williams came up clutch, finding the net as the shot clock was expiring for a 13-11 lead with 3:37 to play. Any chance of a rally by ROC was silenced by Musselman. She cashed in with 2:45 to play for a 14-11 lead and then put the game away with a power play strike at the 1:50 mark to close things out. Team USA went on for the 15-11 win.

“Every game is different, every game is unique, that was definitely intense – for me every semifinal in the Olympic Games that I’ve been a part of has been really close. It’s been a battle, it’s been a fight, we knew that coming into this…Russia is an incredible team, they have a lot of depth. That’s what you want in a semi, you want to feel that energy, you want to feel that Olympic spirit – we got that from Russia today. It’s exactly what you expect out of a semi, a fight,” Steffens said. “I’m super excited, I think we can definitely celebrate this win here, then it’s kind of on to the next. You’re only as good as your next game, we’re just looking forward to the opportunity.”

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The United States went 6/12 on power plays and 1/1 on penalties while ROC went 6/10 on power plays with no penalties attempted.

USA Water Polo returns to the Olympic final for the fourth straight Olympic Games and fifth overall (2000, 2008, 2012, 2016, 2020). Assured of a medal in Tokyo, the USA Women remain the only women’s water polo nation to medal in every Olympic Games to offer women’s water polo. They have previously won two golds (2012 and 2016), two silvers (2000 and 2008) and one bronze (2004).

Scoring – Stats
USA Water Polo 15 (2, 4, 5, 4) M. Musselman 5, M. Steffens 3, M. Fischer 2, M. Seidemann 1, R. Fattal 1, S. Haralabidis 1, A. Fischer 1, A. Williams 1
ROC 11 (3, 4, 2, 2) M. Bersneva 3, E. Prokofyeva 2, A. Simanovich 2, E. Soboleva 1, A. Serzhantova 1, A. Fedotova 1, E. Karimova 1
Saves – USA – A. Johnson 8 – E. Golovina 10
6×5 – USA – 6/12 – ROC – 6/10
Penalties – USA – 1/1 – ROC – 0/0