Beijing, China - August 11, 2008 - The U.S. Olympic Team for Women's Water Polo were given all they could handle in their opening game against China as they battled back for a 12-11 win in their first game of Group A play at the Ying Tung Natatorium. Natalie Golda (Fullerton, CA) led the team on offense with four goals while Kami Craig (Santa Barbara, CA) tossed in three.
It was a back and forth contest throughout with no team able to gain much distance from the other. Golda opened the scoring at around the 5 minute mark as she cruised down the middle of the pool to about five meters before blasting one past the Chinese goal keeper. China answered right back with a goal on the next possession and then added another and they had taken a 2-1 lead. With a minute to go in the period Craig created position inside and was able to deliver tying the score at 2-2. The scoring wasn't done there as China quickly scored to go up 3-2 only to have Golda hit again following a Moriah van Norman (San Diego, CA) drawn exclusion.
It was knotted at 3-3 headed to the second when China opened up a 5-3 lead at the 6:36 mark in the period. This was short-lived as a minute later Brenda Villa (Commerce, CA) skipped one in, then Golda connected again, and Brittany Hayes (Santa Ana, CA) lit the proverbial lamp and Team USA was back in front at 6-5. At this point China pulled their starting goalkeeper Jun Yang in favor of backup Ying Tan. That spurred the Chinese on to tie the game at 6-6 with 2:19 remaining but within thirty seconds Golda had scored again and it was 7-6 in favor of the United States. China added another score to tie the game, and were seemingly going to retake the lead when Betsey Armstrong (Ann Arbor, MI) came through with a clutch save at the :28 second mark. Hayes added a score on a dish from Villa with :14 ticks left and the USA were in front 8-7 at halftime.
The scoring rolled along into the third as USA took advantage of a double exclusion called against China with van Norman using multiple pump fakes before burying a shot right on the doorstep. Armstrong came up huge again denying a penalty shot on a five meter call about a minute later, but the Chinese would not waver scoring at the 2:27 mark to come within a tally at 9-8. Craig found the cage again with a little over a minute remaining and the lead was two, but China answered on a penalty shot with half a minute remaining and it was just a 10-9 game headed to the fourth.
In the final stanza China came out firing scoring back to back goals to grab the lead at 11-10 with 5:46 remaining. Not about to lay down at this point Golda passed off to Craig who put it home for her third goal and a tie game at 11-11. The difference maker came with 3:32 remaining when Lauren Wenger (Long Beach, CA) worked in on the near side, received a pass from Villa and fired it past the keeper for the lead at 12-11. Both teams would trade possessions with China having the last chance with eight seconds left. They never mustered a shot before time expired and the United States came away with the victory.
The team was solid on the player advantage going 4/6 while China went 4/9 and converted 1/2 on penalty shots. In addition an Olympics record was set for most combined goals (23) in a women’s water polo match that did not use extra time. Next up for Team USA will be a match with defending Gold Medalist Italy on Wednesday, August 13 at 3:40pm local Beijing time (12:40am PST).
"It was an entertaining game, there were alot of good goals scored. We had been saying China is improving and I had felt that out of all three this was going to be the most competitive Olympics for women's water polo. The crowd was awesome, we anticipated China to be strong and it was a good first game to get us off on our start at the Olympics." -- Guy Baker, Head Coach - U.S. Olympic Team for Women's Water Polo
On 10 first time Olympians playing their first game "I didn't get a sense of jitters or anything like that, it just felt like a first game in a major tournament, we knew there would be a great crowd and China would come out hard." -- Guy Baker, Head Coach - U.S. Olympic Team for Women's Water Polo
On their next opponent Italy "Italy presents some different challenges for us. We'll get to work on them tomorrow, our goal in any major tournament is to get better by the time the tournament ends and to keep improving, so we hope to do that." Guy Baker, Head Coach - U.S. Olympic Team for Women's Water Polo
USA: 12 (3,5,2,2) N. Golda 4, K. Craig 3, B. Hayes 2, B. Villa 1, L. Wenger 1. M. van Norman 1
CHN: 11 (3,4,2,2) A. Gao 3, H. Sun 2, F. Teng 2, Y. Sun 2, P. Liu 1, H. Ma 1
Saves: USA - B. Armstrong 7 CHN - J. Yang 1
6x5 - USA - 4/6 CHN 4/9 (1/2 penalties)