Aug. 11, 2003
The World Champion U.S. women's water polo team qualified for the 2004 Olympic Games with a 7-3 win over northern rival Canada in the gold medal match of the Pan American Games at the Juan Pablo Duarte Olympic Aquatics Center in Santo Domingo (D.R.). The U.S., a last-ditch qualifier for the 2000 Olympics, went undefeated at Pan Ams, posting a record of 5-0-1.
In 2000, the U.S. women vaulted into the 2000 Games with a 6-5 semifinal win against Hungary at the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Palermo, Sicily. The U.S. is now one of only two teams to have earned early qualification, with host Greece being the other.
"It feels good," a soaked U.S. coach Guy Baker said following the game. "It has been an incredible summer to win World Championships, then to come straight here and win Pan Ams to qualify for the Olympics. It's great."
The U.S. had its work cut out with Canada, the world?s No. 4 team, but it didn?t take long to set the tone. A pair of goals in the first quarter by Robin Beauregard (Huntington Beach, CA/UCLA) and one by Heather Petri (Orinda, CA/Cal Berkeley) on a long crosscage lob at the buzzer gave the U.S. a quick 3-0 lead.
Ericka Lorenz (San Diego, CA/Cal Berkeley), who finished the tournament as the team?s leading scorer with 13 goals, netted her first of two in the game after Ellen Estes (Novato, CA/Stanford) drew an exclusion at set on Canada?s Melissa Collins midway through the second quarter. Canada, who was suffering through a shooting drought and a good day by USA goalkeeper Jackie Frank (Long Beach, CA/Stanford), scored the next two goals to pull within two but finished the half having shot an ice cold 2-for-15.
Lorenz buried her second goal on the first possession of the half from six meters out to give the U.S. a 5-2 lead. Villa connected for her second just a minute later on a nearside skip shot to push the advantage to 6-2, forcing a change in goal for Canada. Starting goalie Whynter LaMarre was lifted for backup Rachel Riddell. Canada?s Ann Dow found the net with 3:24 left in the quarter, but another goal by Villa kept the lead at four goals heading into the final quarter.
Both teams buckled down defensively in the final frame, slowing the tempo of the game. Neither team was able to put together much on the offensive end of the pool, but the U.S. team defense was at its best in the final minutes.
"I like how this team responded, I like how we played because, honestly, there was more pressure in this game than there was at World Championships," said Baker.
Estes, a key member of the 2000 Olympic team that won silver in Sydney, is eager to get back at it in Athens. A reporter at the World Championships asked Estes why the team didn?t throw Baker in the water following the game, in keeping with water polo tradition. "We still have work to do and we are focusing on winning the Pan American Games." Focus fulfilled, Estes was pleased to see Baker take the dunk tonight.
"Yeah, it feels good to have him in there especially when we all jump on him and throw him in," Estes said with a smile. "It?s good for him to see what it?s like in there. It will be nice to go through this route as an Olympian for a lot longer because we will have more of a chance to take care of ourselves."
Frank, who finished the game with 12 saves, is looking forward to her first Olympics.
"This will be my first Olympics, so I am really really excited," she said. "I don?t really think about those things until after the game, so this is nice."
Team USA will head back home tomorrow night (August 11), arriving on Tuesday morning (August 12).