USA Women’s Water Polo Takes Two More Wins In Holiday Tourney

LOS ALAMITOS, CA, December 5. THE World Champion U.S. women’s water polo team posted wins over third-ranked Russia and No. 4 Canada on day two (Dec. 4) of the 6th Annual Holiday Cup at the USA Water Polo National Aquatic Center in Los Alamitos (Calif.). Six of the world’s top seven ranked teams will be competing in the tournament through Sunday (Dec. 7).

Team USA played the high noon game against Russia, who took bronze at this summer’s World Championships. The U.S. got its first goal from acting captain Brenda Villa (Commerce, CA/Stanford/Commerce WP) at the 5:57 mark of the first quarter. When Gabbie Domanic’s (Santa Ana, CA/UCLA/SoCal) shot hit off of the crossbar, Villa picked up the rebound and lobbed it past Russian goalkeeper Valentina Vorontsova to make it 1-0. Natalia Shepelina scored a player-up goal after 2000 Olympian Heather Petri (Orinda, CA/Cal Berkeley) was whistled for an exclusion in transistion at 3:11, making it 1-1. USA reclaimed the lead on a long shot into the high left corner by Natalie Golda (La Habra, CA/UCLA/New York Athletic Club).

In the opening minute of the second quarter, Thalia Munro (Santa Barbara, CA/UCLA) took a long outlet pass after a save by goalie Nicolle Payne (Cerritos, CA/UCLA/New York Athletic Club) and put it away on the counterattack to make it 3-1 USA. Lefthander Domanic made it a 3-0 run for the U.S. on a 6-on-5 goal with 4:13 to go until the half. Payne had five saves in the quarter for Team USA.

Russia’s Elena Smurova rifled one off the left post and in at 5:18 of the third quarter to halt the U.S. scoring run and make the score 4-2. USA center Ellen Estes (Novato, CA/Stanford) earned an ejection at set and got the ball back after the free pass to bury a goal and make it 5-2 in favor of the U.S. Russia’s Tatyana Petrova took advantage of a U.S. turnover on the perimeter to get the goal back and make it 5-3. The teams traded goals again, the U.S. getting a score from Robin Beauregard (Huntington Beach, CA/UCLA/New York Athletic Club) and Russia getting one from Smurova, making for a 6-4 halftime lead for the U.S.

The Russians narrowed the U.S. lead to one on a player-up goal by Shepelina on the first possession of the third quarter. Ericka Lorenz (San Diego, CA/Cal Berkeley) finished off a U.S. power play, catching the sixth pass of the ejection and hammering it home from about five meters out with 4:25 remaining. The U.S. chewed up some shot clock later in the quarter with Russian goalie Valentina Verontsova tipping three straight shots by Villa out of bounds. The U.S. took the two-goal lead into the waning minutes of the game. On Russia’s final possession of the game, Payne was called for an ejection, leaving the U.S. with no goalkeeper. Three U.S. players crowded the cage, and Domanic notched two saves before Shepelina connected for a goal just as Payne was reentering with two seconds left in the game.

Payne finished the day with 10 saves, five of them coming in the second quarter. Seven different players scored goals for the U.S. Shepelina led all scorers with three goals for Russia.

The win took the U.S. to 2-0 with fourth-ranked Canada still on the schedule for the evening game.

Team USA faced the Canadians for the first time since defeating them in the gold medal of the 2003 Pan American Games back on August 10. Canada, hungry for some retribution got on the board first with a player-up goal by veteran Johanne Begin from the left side with 4:42 to go in the first quarter. Gabbie Domanic evened the score at 1-1, when she found some space in the low right corner for a skip goal on the next trip down. Begin cashed in again at the 3:14 mark, skipping a shot in off the crossbar to give Canada a 2-1 lead. But the U.S. scored the next two goals of the quarter—one by Villa from seven meters out and another by Natalie Golda (La Habra, CA/UCLA/New York Athletic Club) on a crosscage rocket—to take a 3-2 lead into the second quarter.

Domanic netted her second goal of the night to start the second quarter, giving the U.S. a 4-2 lead. Canada, however, scored the next two goals of the game to catch the World Champs at 4-4. In the final minute of the second, Heather Petri (Orinda, CA/Cal Berkeley) sailed a five-meter shot into the high left corner from up top on a pass from Maureen Flanagan (Honolulu, HI/UCLA) over on the right wing. USA goalkeeper Jackie Frank (Long Beach, CA/Stanford) hauled down five saves in the quarter.

Canada took the lead midway through the third quarter, getting goals from standouts Cora Campbell and Ann Dow. Foothill High School’s Jillian Kraus (Santa Ana, CA/Foothill HS/SoCal) scored an extra-player goal with 43 seconds left in the quarter to help the U.S. regain its footing and take a 6-6 tie into the fourth quarter.

Domanic poured in her third goal of the night with 5:34 left in the fourth quarter to recapture the U.S. lead at 7-6, and added an insurance goal, her fourth, less than a minute later to make it 8-6. All four of Domanic’s goals came on the player-advantage. With 54 seconds left, Beauregard connected on a nearside skip shot from the right side after Estes had drawn another ejection at set, propelling the U.S. to a 9-6 edge and the victory.

Team USA was outscored 2-1 in the third quarter, but shut the Canadians out in the fourth, finishing the game on a 4-0 run. The fourth quarter made all the difference, according to U.S. coach Guy Baker.

“I just didn’t think we were attacking the way we could,” he said. “I told them to just give us seven hard minutes before the fourth quarter. Against Australia and Russia, we looked like we had never played a fourth quarter in our lives, but tonight we were really controlled on defense, got some good saves in goal, and it paid off.”

The U.S. will now look ahead to a World Championships gold medal rematch with former champ Italy in a 7:30 p.m. game tomorrow (Dec. 5) night.

Other game summaries

Game 4 – Italy 7, Netherlands 6
No. 2 ranked Italy survived a late rally by the Netherlands to post a 7-6 victory in the early game of the day. The win pushed Italy to 1-0-1, while Netherlands remains winless at 0-2.

Netherlands, an eight-time World Cup winner, drew first blood at 5:17 in the first quarter on a goal by Rianne Guichelaar, a nearside bullet from the lefthander’s position. The Dutch had several opportunities to add to the lead in the first quarter, but failed to find the net on three shots one trip down tank. Italian goalkeeper Francesca Conti made three straight saves against the Netherlands attack near the four-minute mark, the last of them leading to a goal by Cinzia Ragusa to tie it at 1-1 at 3:41.

Italy got into its groove, eventually building its biggest lead of the game, 6-3, with 39 seconds left in the third quarter on a score by Tanya di Mario. The Dutch chipped away in the fourth quarter, coming to within one at 6-5 on a penalty goal by Hanneke Kappen with 2:51 to go. But Italy answered right back with a score by Carmela Alucci to make it a two goal game with just over two minutes remaining. The Netherlands managed a final score with one second left on the clock, an easy goal by Marlies Wekdam, but it was too little, too late.

Conti notched 10 saves in goal for the Italians, while Meike de Nooy hauled down 11 for the Dutch. All of Italy’s goals were scored by different players.

Game 5 – Australia 9, Canada 7
Olympic gold medal winner Australia rebounded from its loss last night against the U.S. to register a hard-fought, 9-7 win over No. 4 Canada. Australia went to 1-1, while Canada dropped to 0-1-1.

Elise Norwood started the scoring for Australia with a counterattack goal early in the first quarter, but Canadian mainstay Johanne Begin netted an action goal on the next possession to make it 1-1. Australia’s Naomi Castle came high out of the water and buried a crosscage goal after a pumpfake to make it 2-1, but Canada’s Cora Campbell went high nearside after getting the ball back on an ejection she earned to tie it at 2-2 with 1:57 left in the first.

Nikita Cuffe and Jo Fox scored back-to-back goals for Australia in the second quarter to make it 4-2. Sue Gardiner cut the lead to one with a goal from the right post with 2:04 to go before the half to make it 4-3.

Australia stretched its lead out to three at 9-6 with Norwood’s second score of the day with 31 seconds left in the third.

Aussie Naomi Castle led all scorers with three goals on the day.

Game 6 – Australia 7, Netherlands 6

Olympic champ Australia posted its second win in as many tries, defeating eight-time World Cup winner Netherlands, 7-6 in the first game of the evening session.

Australia managed the win despite only getting two tries on the power play (1 for 2).

The score was tied 6-6 heading into the fourth quarter after the Dutch tied the game at the end of the third on a goal by Meike van der Sloot. Neither team was able to do much offensively in the final frame, but Australia was able to do just enough. Kelly Heuchan scored what amounted to be the game-winning goal with 1:13 left to play.

Heuchan led all scorers with three goals scored. Aussie goalkeeper Alicia McCormack notched eight saves in the net.

Australia improved its record to 2-1 after an opening night loss to the U.S. The Dutch remain the field’s only winless team at 0-3.

Game 7 – Italy 11, Russia 10

Italy came back from a late two-goal deficit to slip past Russia, 11-10, in the sandwich game of the evening session.

Italy trailed 9-7 to start the fourth quarter but got a goal on its first possession by Martina Micelli to make it 9-8. After a few stops on defense, Italy got even on a skip shot by Manuela Zanchi with 5:14 to play in the game. Natalia Shepelina found the net for Russia to end a quarter and a half scoring drought with 2:33 remaining on the clock, but Alexandra Araujo fired a ball goalward and had it knocked down by Russian goalkeeper Galina Zlotnikova, only to have it float across the goal line to make it 10-10.

Zanchi tacked on the game-winner with 58 seconds to go, skipping one in on a counterattack. Italy remained unbeaten at 2-0-1, while Russia fell to 1-2.