Gouda, Netherlands – March 28 – The mission had been accomplished for the USA Water Polo Women’s National Team but there were still two more games to play and a gold medal up for grabs. Just two days after punching a ticket to the 2016 Olympic Games, Team USA kept up their winning ways capping a perfect eight days of water polo with a comeback win over Italy 11-6 to take gold at the Olympic Qualification Tournament. Using a 6-1 margin in the second half, Team USA turned a one goal deficit in the second quarter into a five goal victory behind three goals from Makenzie Fischer (Laguna Beach, CA/Laguna Beach HS/SET). Ashleigh Johnson (Miami, FL/Princeton/NYAC) did the job in net picking up 10 saves in the win. While qualification had already been achieved the final results of this event will also impact the draw for the upcoming Olympic Games. For complete tournament results, click here.
It became a habit through the first seven games for the United States to score first and they did it once more against Italy when Makenzie Fischer got on the board with her first goal. This time Italy had an answer moments later drawing even at 1-1 on a goal from Arianna Garibotti. After Maggie Steffens (Danville, CA/Stanford/NYAC) scored on a lob for a 2-1 lead Francesca Pomeri leveled the match at 2-2 for Italy. Kiley Neushul (Goleta, CA/Stanford/Santa Barbara) chimed in at the 2:06 mark to push Team USA ahead 3-2 but veteran Tania Di Mario scored two straight goals at the end of the first to give Italy a 4-3 advantage. The score marked the first time Team USA had trailed all week in Gouda.
The second quarter saw Courtney Mathewson (Anaheim Hills, CA/UCLA/NYAC) score the first of her two goals to even the game at 4-4. Rosaria Aiello came back for Italy to retake the lead at 5-4 but that was as good as things would get for Italy. Makenzie Fischer closed the scoring in first half with a goal for a 5-5 game. Not long after, with about 20 seconds to play in the half Team USA Head Coach Adam Krikorian was given a red card and ejected from the match for arguing a perceived missed call. As Team USA went into half tied at 5-5, the departure of their coach seemed to ignite the group.
In the third quarter the United States blanked Italy 3-0 getting goals from Mathewson, Craig on a power play, and Aria Fischer (Laguna Beach, CA/Laguna Beach HS/NYAC) for a 8-5 lead going to the fourth. Things were clearly going the way of Team USA in the fourth quarter when Neushul lost the handle on a shot fake only to watch accurately fly over the goalie’s head and into the net for a 9-5 lead. Makenzie Fischer followed with her third goal to make it 10-5 and seal the top of the podium for the United States. Aleksandra Cotti scored late for Italy but Musselman matched it with a score, leaving the United States winners at 11-6.
Team USA went 5/9 on power plays and did not attempt a penalty shot while Italy went 3/8 on power plays and 1/1 on penalty shots. The United States finished the tournament with a perfect record including wins over Japan, Canada, Spain (2x), Greece, South Africa, France, and Italy. They outscored their opponents by a total of 123-35.
USA 11 (3, 2, 3, 3) M. Fischer 3, C. Mathewson 2, K. Neushul 2, A. Fischer 1, K. Craig 1, M. Steffens 1, M. Musselman 1
ITA 6 (4, 1, 0, 1) Di Mario 2, Garibotti 1, Cotti 1, Pomeri 1, Aiello 1
Saves – USA – A. Johnson 10 – ITA 6
6×5 – USA – 5/9 – ITA – 3/8
Penalties – USA – 0/0 – ITA – 1/1
Swimming news courtesy of USA Water Polo.