Water Polo: No Johnson, Musselman, Steffens Equals No Gold for American Women in Peru

Photo Courtesy: Luis Olaya

Maddie Musselman and Mackenzie Fischer are back in college, breaking records and dreaming of NCAA titles. Ashleigh Johnson and Maggie Steffens are in Europe, pursuing pro careers as they prep for yet another crack at Olympic water polo gold in 2024.

That left Amanda Longan as the sole USNT member from the 2020 Tokyo Olympics to anchor a young American squad at the 2022 FINA Intercontinental Cup.

In an anticlimactic end to what was a steep learning curve for a team of youngsters, Longan and her U.S. women’s water polo teammates dropped an 11-4 decision to Australia.

The result? A third-place finish for the Americans, their worst performance in senior international play since a fifth-place finish in the 2013 FINA World Championships.
In a match that saw the Stingers jump out to a 3-0 first quarter lead, the Americans rallied in the third period to reduce their deficit to a lone goal before Australia put the game away with a late scoring blitz.

Leading the way for Team USA was Emily Ausmus with two goals while Longan registered eight saves. For Australia, which was undefeated (6-0) in the Villa Deportiva Nacional pool, Brooke McClean had four goals and Zoe Arancini three.

The Stingers open the scoring midway through the first period when Tenealle Fasala beat Longan. Charlize Andrews scored half a minute later, and when McClean got on the scoring sheet at the 2:16 mark, the Americans were in danger of losing a second match in a senior international tournament for the first time since a FINA World League Super Final, also in 2013. The reality is that team in Lima bears almost no relationship to the one that captured gold nine months ago at the Tokyo Games—the third straight Olympic top finish for the Americans water polo team.

A power-play goal by Ausmus was the only score in the second period, as Longan kept her team from falling further behind with three good saves. When Ausmus and Morgan Netherton connected on consecutive possessions midway through the third, the U.S. made it a game at 4-3. Then reality—in the form of five straight Stinger scores over the next six minutes—came crashing through, and the Americans never recovered.

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A U.S. defensive mistake left Pascal Casey all alone against Longan, who could not corral the shot. If that wasn’t enough, a successful 5-meter penalty by Arancini in the last 20 seconds put Australia ahead 6-3.

Four minutes later, the game was 9-3, with seemingly little chance of a USA comeback. Then a goal from almost half tank by Jenna Flynn gave USA a bit of life in the match’s final stretch.

With three minutes remaining, Ethan Damato, the American coach, called for time—ostensibly to plan a miracle. His idea was tricky, as Longan left her cage to join the attack. But Flynn could not convert on a scoring opportunity, then Australia’s McLean put home two more goals to send the U.S. packing with only a bronze medal, far from their accustomed position at the top of the podium.

USA Goals: 4 (0, 1, 2, 1) E. Ausmus 2, J. Flynn 1, M. Netherton 1

Australia Goals: 11 (3, 0, 3, 5) B. McClean 4, Z. Arancini 3, P. Casey 1, C. Andrews 1, T. Fasala 1, L. Mihailovic 1

Water Polo Saves – USA – A. Longan 8 – AUS – G. Palm 6