July 21, 2003
BARCELONA, SPAIN - The U.S. women's water polo team made its way into the 2003 FINA World Championships semifinals with an 8-4 win over Olympic gold medallist Australia at Club Natacio Barcelona in Spain today (July 17). The U.S. will face the winner of Hungary-Russia on Wednesday (July 23) for a shot at the gold medal game. Hungary is the reigning World Cup champ, while Russia is the Olympic bronze medal holder.
After failing to get a shot away on its first few possessions of the game, the U.S. finally found the net on a player-up goal by Ericka Lorenz (San Diego, CA/Cal Berkeley) from six meters out with 3:59 on the clock. Australia made it a 1-1 game on a backhand by Jodie Schtumke later in the quarter, and Bronwyn Smith gave the Aussies a 2-1 lead on a counterattack goal at 2:05.
A defensively themed second quarter didn't yield a goal for either team until the 3:33 mark when Kate Gynther scored to give Australia a 3-1 lead. Team USA recovered the goal on the next trip down when Brenda Villa (Commerce, CA/Stanford/Commerce Water Polo) found Ellen Estes (Novato, CA/Stanford) for an easy 6-on-5 goal to make it 3-2. The U.S. tied the score at 3-3 with 12 seconds to go before the half on a similar play, this time with Robin Beauregard (Huntington Beach, CA/UCLA) dishing to Amber Stachowski (Rancho Santa Margarita, CA/UCLA/Golden West) for the goal.
The U.S. settled into its defensive groove in the second half, forcing the Aussies into some ill-advised shots. Beauregard broke into the score column for the U.S. early in the third quarter, burying a natural goal from downtown to give the U.S. a 4-3 edge. Team USA captain Heather Moody (Green River, WY/San Diego State/New York Athletic Club) made it a 4-0 run and a 5-3 game when she found some space on a player-advantage, sinking a lob pass from Thalia Munro (Santa Barbara, CA/UCLA) at the 5:00 mark of the third. Estes made what amounted to be the play of the day at 1:59, wriggling away from a pair of defenders just in front of the cage to flip in a loose ball, giving the U.S. a 6-3 lead heading into the fourth.
Australia caught some rough breaks early in the fourth quarter, hitting the post hard twice and getting stuffed by U.S. goalkeeper Nicolle Payne (Cerritos, CA/UCLA/New York Athletic Club) on a breakaway. That made room for a score by Villa at the 3:37 point to make it 7-3, USA. Later in the quarter, Stachowski earned an ejection at set with one second left on the shot clock, setting up a long 6-on-5 goal by Lorenz, her second of the game. Australia got a consolation goal from Melissa Byram with nine seconds remaining in the game to cap the scoring at 8-4.
The victory was particularly compelling, considering Team USA's early two-goal deficit.
"I think that they just came out with a bit more intensity in the first half," said defender Heather Petri (Orinda, CA/Cal Berkeley). "We knew that we needed to raise the bar and at halftime, I think we did just that."
"I think we were fortunate to be tied at the half," said U.S. head coach Guy Baker. "I think we picked it and just started playing. They pressed us really hard and we've been working against a lot of zones lately. I think we did okay, but I think we need to play better. We learned more from that game because we were behind."
Team USA will now await the winner of the Russia-Hungary game, both teams bringing aggressive, pressing styles of play.
"We'll come back to watch that game tonight and use tomorrow to prepare for the next one," said Baker. "We're playing for a medal now, so it's just a matter of what color we'll go home with."
Team USA will return to action on Wednesday (July 23), but the game time depends on the outcome of the Canada-Spain game due to television rights of the host.