WATER POLO: Dynastic U.S. women three-peat at FINA Worlds off 11-6 win over Spain

Thrice as nice for the U.S. women's water polo team after a third consecutive World Championships gold medal (Photo: FINA)

When American Olympic fans think about U.S. teams that simply don’t lose, the men’s and women’s basketball teams immediately come to mind. But let’s add the women’s Water Polo squad to the list after a third consecutive World Championships gold medal in Gwangju, Korea.

The U.S. demolished its group foes by a combined 60-13 score and then stomped Greece, 15-5, Australia – in the toughest match of the tournament – by 7-2 and then Spain in the final, 11-6.

The Americans, coached by Adam Krikorian, once again won as a team. The leading scorer, Maddie Musselman, had just 13 goals during the tournament, but five players scored 10 or more, including Stephanie Haralabidis (12), Kiley Neushul (10), Aria Fischer (10) and older sister Makenzie Fischer (10). All told, the U.S. outscored its opponents, 95-26.

Further, the U.S. defense and goaltending by Amanda Longan and Ashleigh Johnson was superb. In a tournament in which 1,078 goals were scored, the U.S. gave up only 26 in six goals and allowed only 20% of the shots against them into the net. By contrast, the American attack scored on 49% of its 189 shots over six games.

The way the brackets worked out, the “real final” came in the semis against Australia, which has played the U.S. tougher than any other team. Thus the U.S. was aggressive from the start and scored first, with 3:21 to play in the first period on a shot from Alys Williams. Haralabidis scored on a power-play with 1:01 to go and Rachel Fattal ripped in a shot from the center of the pool with just nine seconds left for a 3-0 lead at the end of a period.

Makenzie Fischer scored on a counter-attack in the second period and Haralabidis got a second score with 1:46 before the half and the issued was essentially decided as the Americans took a 5-0 lead to the break. Both teams got two goals in the second half for the final totals of 7-2, with Johnson making 14 saves in goal for the U.S.

In the final, the U.S. was up, 3-1, after one period and 5-3 at half. The third period was the decider, as Aria Fischer, Fattal, and two strikes from Neushul left Spain reeling at 9-3 with a quarter to go. The Spanish outscored the U.S., 3-2, in the final period, but the gold medal was again destined for the U.S. women. Neushul led the U.S. scorers with three goals.

The tournament awards included:

Most Valuable Player: Roser Tarrago (ESP)
Most Valuable Goalkeeper: Laura Ester (ESP)
Highest Goal Scorer: Rita Keszthelyi (HUN: 24)

The tournament All-Stars:

● Laura Estes (ESP: Goalkeeper)
Aria Fischer (USA)
Stephanie Haralabidis (USA)
● Rita Keszthelyi (HUN)
● Maud Megens (NED)
● Alena Serzhantova (RUS)
● Rosa Tarrago (ESP)

The American dominance has coincided with the appointment of Krikorian as the head coach in 2009. The astonishing record since:

● 2009: World Champions; FINA World League Champions
● 2010: FINA World League Champions
● 2011: FINA World League Champions; World Championships sixth
● 2012: Olympic Champions; FINA World League Champions
● 2013: FINA World League bronze medalists; World Championships fifth
● 2014: FINA World League Champions
● 2015: World Champions; FINA World League Champions
● 2016: Olympic Champions; FINA World League Champions
● 2017: World Champions; FINA World League Champions
● 2018: FINA World League Champions
● 2019: World Champions; FINA World League Champions

Along with the 2003 world title, the U.S. women now own six World Championships, more than any other squad and have won three in a row. They will go for their third consecutive Olympic gold in 2020. Summary:

FINA World Aquatics Championships
Gwangju (KOR) ~ 12-28 July 2019
(Full results here)

Women/Final Standings: 1. United States; 2. Spain; 3. Australia; 4. Hungary; 5. Russia; 6. Italy; 7. Netherlands; 8. Greece; 9. Canada; 10. Kazakhstan; 11. China; 12. New Zealand; 13. Japan; 14. South Africa; 15. Cuba; 16. Korea. Semis: U.S. d. Australia, 7-2; Spain d. Hungary, 16-10. Third: Australia d. Hungary, 10-9. Final: U.S. d. Spain, 11-6.