May. 1, 2000
Palermo, Sicily - (April 29)-- The USA Women's Water Polo Team qualified for the Sydney Olympic Games today with a hard fought 6-5 win over Hungary at the World Women's Olympic Qualification Tournament in Palermo, Sicily.
Hungary's Kata Redei scored a goal on Hungary's first possession of the game, but the USA rallied with three successive power play goals by Robin Beaureguard (Huntington Beach, CA), Coralie Simmons (Hemet, CA) and Heather Petrie (Orinda, CA) to give the USA a 3-1 lead at the end of the first period.
Gubba Sheehy scored in the first minute of the second period to give the USA a 4-1 lead. After Stieber scored for Hungary, Maureen O'Toole (Piedmont, CA) netted the USA's fourth power play goal of the game to reclaim a three goal lead at halftime. Stieber scored her second goal at the start of the third frame and 3:38 Coralie Simmons was called for a Penalty foul. Stieber converted the penalty shot and the score was 5-4. One minute later, Stieber netted her fourth goal to tie the score at five.
On the first possession of the fourth quarter, Hungary's Edit Sipos was excluded and Brenda Villa (Commerce, CA) converted for what proved to be the game winner, but not with out spectacular play by USA goalkeeper Bernice Orwig, who shut out many Hungarian attacks. Orwig tipped over an Agnes Valkay shot at 2:09 and the crowd was on its feet. Coralie Simmons went on three majors, drawn by Stieber. However, Edit Sipos sent the ball wide when the new player came into the field after 20 seconds. One minute to go. Hungary on attack with 38 seconds to go. Hungarian coach Gyula Toth calls timeout. With the time dying, Agnes Valkay pops the ball to Rita Dravucz who scoops it straight into the chest of Orwig. The USA gathers, time runs out and the Americans are off to Sydney.
"I'm incredibly proud of this team," said US coach Guy Baker. "They've come a long way in two years. To beat a European team in Europe with the Olympic Games on the line is a great achievement."
In the second semi-final game, Italy's Guisy Malato scored three goals but it wasn't enough as Russia's Tatiana Petrova scored in the final minute to upset the defending World and European Champion from Italy 8-7 and claim the sixth and final spot in the Sydney Olympic Games. Earlier in the day, Kazakhstan bested Japan, 9 - 4 earning the first ticket to Sydney of the day.
The six-team Olympic field is now complete: Australia, Canada, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Russia and the USA. All six teams will come to the United States for the USA Water Polo Olympic Team Selection Tournament, July 4 - 9, in Los Alamitos, CA.
The USA and Russia meet tomorrow for the championship of the tournament, but all the issues are settled - both teams are going to Sydney.
Notes: A press conference with the coaches and team is scheduled for May 9th in southern California. The time and location is to be announced at a later date.
The Women's Olympic tournament will be without two of the most storied water polo nations, Hungary and Italy. The Hungarians have won more Olympic medals than any other nation and their women's team was the 1994 World Champion. Italy has won three Olympic golds and their women's team won the 1998 World Championships. Both nations will be medal favorites in the men's tournament.
Earlier in the day, Kazakhstan bested Japan, 9 - 4 earning the first ticket to Sydney of the day.
While the entire US team was overcome with emotion, the victory had special significance for 39 year-old Maureen O'Toole. O'Toole is a legendary figure in women's water polo, having been named Women's World Water Polo Player of the Year seven times in her career. Like many players of her era, she played on boys high school teams as there were few opportunities for women. One of her opponents in high school was USA Women's National Team Coach Guy Baker. Teammates Ericka Lorenz (San Diegeo, CA) and Brenda Villa were born two years after O'Toole won her first FINA World Cup title in 1978. O'Toole retired in 1994 and un-retired after it was announced in 1998 that women's water polo would join the Olympic program in 2000. "All the guys I played with as a kid dreamed of playing in the Olympic Games," said O'Toole. "It was something I always hoped to do too. It is really difficult to realize what this all means. It's a dream come true." "I cannot think of a more important victory for the USA in the history of the sport of water polo," said Bruce Wigo, USA Water Polo Executive Director. "Being in the Olympic Games will fuel the dynamic growth women's water polo has been experiencing in this country and I think this team has the opportunity to do for our sport what the women's soccer team has done for that sport. We've got a great cast of characters and this will give the media and American public the opportunity to get to know them."
TODAY'S RESULTS 1 2 3 4 F USA 3 2 0 1 6 HUN 1 2 2 0 5
Goals: USA: Villa, O'Toole, Sheehy, Petrie, Simmons, Beaureguard HUN: Stieber 4, Redei
Other Games: KAZ 9, JAP 4, RUS 8, ITA 7
USA Scoring After Six Games Name Goals Coralie Simmons 8 Brenda Villa 7 Ericka Lorenz 5 Heather Moody 5 Maureen O'Toole 5 Robin Beauregard 4 Courtney Johnson 4 Kathy "Gubba" Sheehy 3 Julie Swail* 3 Ellen Estes 2 Heather Petrie 1 Rachel Scott 0