Beijing, China - August 13 - The U.S. Olympic Team for Women's Water Polo found themselves in a hole early on, in the lead late, and tied 9-9 when all was said and done in their match against Italy at the Ying Tung Natatorium. Elisa Casanova's goal with 22 seconds remaining following an exclusion on the United States led to a draw, the first for each team thus far in Olympic competition. Italy and the United States now both sit tied for first place with three points each, with one game remaining in pool play.
In this contest Italy were the aggressors early on as they jumped out to a 2-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Team USA was a little sluggish out of the gate committing a few turnovers, yet they were able to right the ship in the second period. In the second quarter Brenda Villa (Commerce, CA) found Patty Cardenas (Commerce, CA) for a score following an Italian exclusion and USA trailed 2-1. Italy rebuilt a two goal lead immediately scoring off of a player advantage and it was 3-1 with 3:41 to go in the period. The score would see-saw back and forth as Brittany Hayes (Santa Ana, CA) then answered for the United States during a 6x5 advantage as she took a dish from Lauren Wenger (Long Beach, CA) and it was down to 3-2. Italy answered again to go up two at 4-2 but in the final 1:07 of the first half Team USA would string together an impressive two goal run.
First Hayes put an entry pass in to Kami Craig (Santa Barbara, CA) at the center spot, she quickly spun and buried a shot low in the nearside corner of the cage. Then with just 17 seconds left in the period Hayes again was with the ball but instead of the pass, she went lob shot on the far side of the cage and beat the goalie to tie the game at 4-4. Coming out of the intermission tied at 4-4 scoring was at a premium in the early minutes of the third. Italy finally broke through with 3:41 remaining to go up 5-4. Team USA pulled a line change as five new players joined Villa and about a minute later it was Villa scoring on a player advantage just as sides were coming even. Tied again Team USA could sense their first lead coming and it was from Jessica Steffens (Danville, CA) who rattled one in bar down and into the cage. That lead would last exactly 19 seconds as Italy scored again and it was 6-6 going into the fourth quarter.
The back and forth would continue into the fourth with Villa scoring at the 5:16 mark on a shot that just trickled in to the net but was signaled good by the goal judge. That 7-6 advantage would not last long for Team USA when Italy took advantage of a power play and tied the game up again this time at 7-7. Less than thirty seconds later three-time Olympian Heather Petri (Orinda, CA) buried a shot into the left corner from six meters out and it was a USA lead once more. Goalie Betsey Armstrong (Ann Arbor, MI) 10 saves on the night, came through with a big time save on the next possession for Italy and that led to another score for the USA when fellow Michigander Alison Gregorka (Ann Arbor, MI) ripped the net to give a two goal lead at 9-7.
Italy would not go away and scored shortly after the Gregorka goal to climb within one at 9-8. Each team's defense then locked down for the next two minutes or so before a USA exclusion led to a power play for Italy and the game-tying goal by Casanova. Next up for Team USA will be a match with Russia at 2:20pm on Friday, August 15. Due to China's victory over Russia tonight Russia is unable to advance on to the quarterfinals. Team USA remains in contention for winning Group A.
"I thought it was going to be a tight game, a one goal game or a tie and it was exactly that. This game we had more balance in the number of players scoring, we had seven players score nine goals. Overall I thought we played well, after the first quarter we played well enough to win." Guy Baker, Head Coach - U.S. Olympic Team for Women's Water Polo
On getting ready for Russia "We'll prepare for them exactly the same way we prepare for every game. I'm sure they are going to come to play, while it is great for China to defeat them, it is sad for Russia that they will not be able to move on. I'm sure it will be a great game." Guy Baker, Head Coach - U.S. Olympic Team for Women's Water Polo
USA - 9 (0,4,2,3) B. Hayes 2, B. Villa 2, H. Petri 1, P. Cardenas 1, J. Steffens 1, A. Gregorka 1, K. Craig 1
ITA - 9 (2,2,2,3) M. Miceli 2, T. di Mario 2, E. Casanova 1, S. Bosurgi 1, E. Valkai 1, M. Zanchi 1, C. Ragusa
Saves - USA - B. Armstrong 10 - ITA - E. Gigli 10
6x5 - USA - 3/4 - ITA 5/6