The USA Women’s Senior National Team is headed back to the Gold Medal game at the FINA World Championships after an 8-7 defeat of Greece earlier tonight. Behind five goals from Elsie Windes (Portland, OR/California) the squad advanced to the finals and will look to claim their third World Championship this decade as they battle Canada on Friday evening at 9pm local Italy time.
Team USA jumped out to a tremendous start winning the opening sprint and immediately got down to business on the offensive end. Windes connected from deep for the first goal of the game just 25 seconds into the match for a 1-0 USA lead. Just 90 seconds later and it was Windes again cutting to the goal on a player advantage, receiving a pass from Brittany Hayes (Santa Ana, CA/USC) and burying the shot for a 2-0 lead.
At the 5:23 mark center Kami Craig (Santa Barbara, CA/USC) worked inside drawing a five meter penalty which was converted by Brenda Villa (Commerce, CA/Stanford) and the United States was rolling up 3-0 with 5:23 to play. Yet the Greeks would make a run to close out the period scoring two goals in the last 1:30 of play to end the frame trailing just one at 3-2.
After a scoreless four minutes and change to start the second quarter it was Greece breaking through to even the game with a goal at the 3:29 mark. Facing a 3-3 tie the United States turned back to Windes who found the corner of the cage at the 2:06 mark for a 4-3 lead. Then with just 1:10 left in the period Windes cut to the cage yet again and delivered a goal off the pass for a 5-3 lead going into halftime.
The third quarter belonged to the Greeks as they charged back in this contest. A player advantage goal at the 6:45 mark in the period drew the Greeks to within one at 5-4. Kelly Rulon (Point Loma, CA/UCLA) quieted the rally momentarily with a shot that ricocheted into the cage for a score just as a Greek exclusion was ending for a 6-4 lead. Greece would answer again with another power play goal at the 3:11 mark and it was back to a one goal margin at 6-5.
This was the score going into the fourth and Greece completed their comeback less than two minutes into the stanza with a counter attack score for a 6-6 match. When in doubt the United States found Windes again who walked in on the near side and lit the proverbial lamp for her fifth goal of the game, and the tournament for that matter, and a 7-6 lead. Two minutes passed and the United States would score again, this time it was Alison Gregorka (Ann Arbor, MI/Stanford) tossing one in from distance for a two goal lead at 8-6.
Greece would stage a furious rally drawing to within one at 8-7 with :43 remaining in the game. From there they were back on offense following a timeout with :16 left. Their final attempt was snuffed out by USA goalie Betsey Armstrong (Ann Arbor, MI/Michigan) as the clock ran out. With the win the United States heads to their fourth World Championship final, a feat only equaled by the Netherlands.
The Greeks turned in a 3/8 performance on power plays while attempting no penalty shots while the United States was 1/3 on power plays and 1/1 on penalty shots. Armstrong finished the day with 14 saves.
Along with appearing in their fourth final the United States are tied with Italy and Hungary at two Gold Medals apiece in World Championship play and will be looking to stand alone come Friday evening. Out of the 10 consecutive major FINA Championships where the United States has advanced to the medal round, seven of those have seen them play for the Gold Medal. The upcoming match will be Canada’s first final since 1991.
photo Getty Images
photo Getty Images