July 24, 2003
BARCELONA, SPAIN - The U.S. women's water polo team earned itself a berth in Friday (July 25) night's FINA World Championships gold medal game with a decisive 11-7 victory over Olympic bronze medal winner Russia at Club Natacio Barcelona in Spain today (July 23). Team USA is currently ranked No. 2 in the world.
After taking the opening sprint, Russia wasted no time getting on the scoreboard. Ekaterina Salimova's long lob shot gave Russia a 1-0 lead just thirty seconds into the game, but USA defender Robin Beauregard (Huntington Beach, CA/UCLA) got the goal right back for her squad, going bar-down and in from seven meters out at 6:06. Russia got its second goal in as many possessions on the next trip down the pool when Natalia Shepelina found space in the low right corner to make it a 2-1 Russia lead. The U.S. answered again, this time getting a goal from attacker Ericka Lorenz (San Diego, CA/Cal Berkeley) at 5:05 to tie the score at 2-2. Heather Petri (Orinda, CA/Cal Berkeley) gave the U.S. its first lead of the game later in the quarter, firing a goal high-left past Russian goalkeeper Valentina Voronisova on a crisp pass from captain Heather Moody (Green River, WY/San Diego State/New York Athletic Club). USA starting keeper Nicolle Payne (Cerritos, CA/UCLA/New York Athletic Club) made a save, her third of the quarter, on a desperation shot by Russia as time expired in the first to hold the U.S. lead at 3-2 heading into the second.
Russia's Olga Tourova, who entered the game as the tournament's leading scorer, scored a goal from the hole early in the second quarter to bring up another tie, 3-3. Salimova picked up her second goal of the day for Russia at the 2:34 mark, a player-advantage skip shot that ricocheted off of Payne and floated across the goal line, making it a 4-3 game heading into halftime.
Moody drew inside water on her defender and scored on the opening play of the second half to even it at 4-4. Shepelina converted a 6-on-5 goal for Russia at 4:42 in the third, but Beauregard netted one of her own on the next play to tie the game at 5-5. At 2:28, Natalie Golda (La Habra, CA/UCLA) took a pass from Beauregard and blazed in the go-ahead goal from six meters out on the point. Beauregard assisted on another goal, this time to Moody, on Team USA's next possession to make it 7-5. USA center Ellen Estes (Novato, CA/Stanford) rattled off two consecutive goals late in the quarter to make it a 5-0 USA run and a 9-5 game. Elena Smourova halted the U.S. momentum on a player-up goal with 20 seconds left on the clock, but Russia still trailed 9-6 heading into the final frame.
Moody drew some 'oohs' and 'aahs' on the first play of the fourth quarter, lobbing in her third goal of the day from eight meters out on the left side as the shot clock was expiring. Tourova converted her second goal of the day with 5:18 remaining, a turnaround from two meters, to keep Russia within three goals. With 2:51 to play, Moody was whistled for a penalty after getting turned by USC star Sofia Konukh of Russia. However, the ensuing penalty shot by Tatiana Petrova was stuffed by second-half USA goalkeeper Jackie Frank (Long Beach, CA/Stanford). Brenda Villa (Commerce, CA/Stanford/Commerce Water Polo) made good on the resulting counterattack, lobbing in a goal from three meters to give the U.S. an 11-7 lead. The play appeared to take the wind out of Russia's sails for the duration of the game, as they were unable to muster any significant offensive attacks in the game's final minutes.
The U.S. will have its work cut out in Friday's gold medal contest, meeting up with reigning World Champion Italy. Italy cruised into the final by way of a 5-2 win over Canada.
With the win, the U.S. assures itself of tournament gold or silver. Team USA has never won gold at a World Championship. Three consecutive bronze medals between 1978 and 1986 account for the team's best finishes. At the last installment of the tournament, the U.S. dropped the bronze medal game to Canada and had to settle for fourth.
"Anytime you Italy, you can expect a tough game," said Beauregard. "They're a super-physical game and they've all played so long together so they know each other really well. I think it'll be a good game and hopefully we come out on top."
U.S. women's head coach Guy Baker anticipates an exciting final contest against Italy.
"I'm stoked to be in the final for sure," said Baker. "They have had great success, so it'll be a good test for us to see where we're at for sure."