Beijing, China - August 19 - Brenda Villa (Commerce, CA) scored three goals late including the winner with one minute remaining to defeat Australia 9-8 and the U.S. Olympic Team for Women's Water Polo is headed back to the Gold Medal game for the first time since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. The victory over Australia earlier today at the Ying Tung Natatorium also assures the women's team of medaling for the third consecutive Olympics something no other women's team has accomplished. In addition they join some pretty select company as on the men's side only six countries have won three consecutive medals at the Olympics. Team USA will battle the Netherlands for the Gold on Thursday, August 21 at 6:20pm local time in Beijing.
As for this contest it was classic USA-Australia- a battle throughout and it came down to the final minutes. Australia started the scoring first with a goal three minutes into the game but Team USA answered immediately as less than thirty seconds later Natalie Golda (Fullerton, CA) took a feed from Villa to tie the score at 1-1. Australia's Melissa Rippon skipped one in at the four minute mark of the first to give Australia back the lead at 2-1. This was short lived because Brittany Hayes (Santa Ana, CA) answered for the Americans with a lob shot tally at 2:23 remaining to tie the score at 2-2.
It was tied at two goals apiece to start the second quarter. Two minutes into the quarter center Moriah van Norman (San Diego, CA) drew a five meter penalty which was cashed in by Villa and Team USA had their first lead of the game at 3-2. At the 3:39 mark in the quarter the United States went for more as Jessica Steffens (Danville, CA) cleaned up a missed Elsie Windes (Portland, OR) shot and put home the rebound for a 4-2 advantage. Australia would quickly rally scoring back to back goals to tie the game at 4-4 with 2:36 remaining in the half.
The game remained tied into the halftime and just over a minute into the third quarter Team USA grabbed the lead back when Kami Craig (Santa Barbara, CA) got loose inside for a score to go up 5-4. Some two minutes later Alison Gregorka (Ann Arbor, MI) helped build the advantage with a tally and it was 6-4 USA. An Australia exclusion led to another USA goal, this time by Villa and it was 7-4 and USA was in control. Even with Australia scoring on a player advantage at the 1:39 mark in the third, the United States countered right away with Hayes scoring on a power play to go back up three at 8-5 headed to the fourth.
Despite the three goal lead this one was far from over. Gemma Beadsworth found the net for Australia to draw within two at 8-6, then Aussie goalie Alicia McCormack halted a Golda five meter penalty shot. Using that momentum the Aussies came down the other end and scored again closing to within 8-7. Four minutes would pass as the game entered the final stages and Australia tied the game on a player advantage with 2:27 remaining thanks to Kate Gynther. The United States would strike last however as they drew an exclusion and with one minute remaining. Villa, the team captain put the cap on the game with a beautiful skip shot that navigated its way into the net past multiple arms for a 9-8 lead. The defense locked down the rest of the way and it was on to the Gold Medal game for the United States.
Notes: Villa finished with a hat trick while goalie Betsey Armstrong (Ann Arbor, MI) tallied eight saves. All-Around Lauren Wenger (Long Beach, CA) left the game in the closing seconds with an injury to her right hand. USA finished at 4/7 on power players while holding Australia to just 2/8.
"I liked the way we played, both teams know each other extremely well and I just figured it would be this type of game. I liked the fourth quarter and how we played and how we were able to overcome losing a three goal lead. It was the first time in the tourney we did a good job in 5x6 defense, and then at the end our composure to run a 6x5 it is just a great testament to our training and all six players did a great job." Guy Baker - Head Coach, U.S. Olympic Team for Women's Water Polo
On playing the Netherlands - "We go back tonight and start preparing for the Netherlands, we had a four day camp with them at Da Xing when we first arrived in China, so we have spent a little time together. They are playing great, they beat Russia to qualify to get here and they are a very good team under pressure." Guy Baker - Head Coach, U.S. Olympic Team for Women's Water Polo
"It's unbelievable, a dream come true but we still have one more to go." Brittany Hayes, U.S. Olympic Team for Women's Water Polo
USA: 9 (2,2,4,1) B. Villa 3, B. Hayes 2, K. Craig 1, A. Gregorka 1, J. Steffens 1, N. Golda 1
AUS: 8 (2,2,1,3) K. Gynther 3, R. Rippon 2, G. Beadsworth 1, B. Knox 1, M. Santoromito 1
Saves - USA - B. Armstrong 8 AUS - A. McCormack 15
6x5 - USA 4/7 - AUS 2/8