June 19, 2011
Tianjin, China - Former UCLA standouts Courtney Mathewson and Kelly Rulon led the USA Women's Senior National Water Polo Team to its fifth straight major FINA championship and sixth FINA World League Super Final title in program history with a 9-7 defeat over Italy in the final earlier Sunday.
Led by former UCLA head coach Adam Krikorian, who played for the Bruins' men's water polo program from 1992-95, Team USA earned a gold medal after Mathewson scored a game-high three goals in the championship match.
Team USA seemed destined for a great start drawing a penalty shot early. A miss there led to Italy striking first for a 1-0 advantage. The United States rebounded quickly when Brenda Villa scored next for a 1-1 match and then with just three seconds left in the period Mathewson found the cage for a 2-1 lead going to the second period.
In the second quarter Italy was firing on all cylinders getting three scores from Alegra Lapi to build a 4-3 advantage at halftime. The upstart Italians who failed to win a single match in group play, yet advanced to the final, kept the momentum early in the third scoring on a deflected shot to gain a 5-3 lead.
Team USA started to chip away. First it was recent NCAA Championship MVP Annika Dries putting home a rebounded shot for a 5-4 game and then, following a timeout, the United States went back to Mathewson who drilled a shot from five meters for a tie game at 5-5. The red, white, and blue would come all the way back when with just four seconds to play in the third, Bruin alum Rulon delivered the lob for a 6-5 lead going to the final stanza.
Into the fourth quarter and the United States look to put the match away when Mathewson scored again for a 7-5 lead. The Italians would not go gently into that good night, coming back with two straight scores for a tie game at 7-7 with 4:47 remaining in the match. As they had all game the United States had an answer. With 3:57 to play, Brenda Villa went cross cage to beat the keeper and put the USA in front at 8-7. Then moments later at the 2:16 mark it was Maggie Steffens duplicating Villa's efforts with a cross cage putaway for a 9-7 lead. Final chances by the Italians were halted and the United States came away winners at 9-7 and once again, champions of the FINA World League Super Final.
"It may not have been the most beautiful game, but in the end we showed great heart and character to come from behind and find a way to get it done," said Adam Krikorian, USA Head Coach and former UCLA men's and women's coach. "Overall, I am pleased with how we performed defensively in this game and all week but we all know that there is still much to improve on heading into World Championships."
Team USA went 5/12 on power plays while Italy was 3/12. The United States was 0/1 on penalty shots. In other matches Australia took the Bronze Medal with a 7-5 win over China. Russia nabbed fifth place with a 14-9 defeat of Canada and Greece topped Spain 14-8 for seventh place.
The victory for the United States gives it six World League Super Final crowns and five straight FINA crowns including three Super Final titles, one World Championship and one World Cup. Next up for the United States will be the FINA World Championships set for July 16-31 in Shanghai, China.
Quarters: 1-2, 3-1, 1-3, 2-3
Referees: Gabor VOGEL (HUN), German MOLLER (ARG)
Extra Man: ITA: 3/12. USA 5/12
Pens: ITA: 0/0. USA: 0/1
Saves - USA - B. Armstrong 9