On 1st Day of FINA World Water Polo Championships Two Numbers Stand Out: 64 and 33

December 20, 2018; Brenda Villa Aquatic Center, Commerce, CA, USA; USA Water Polo Women's Exhibition Series: USA vs Netherlands; USA Paige Hauschild Photo credit: Catharyn Hayne for USA Water Polo
Paige Hauschild, the 19 year-old phenom for Team USA, tallied four goals against New Zealand. Photo Courtesy: Catharyn Hayne

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Women’s water polo opened play Sunday at the 18th FINA World Championships in Gwangju, and there were two significant scores that stood out: the host South Koreans lost 64-0 to Hungary, while South Africa, which is embroiled in a scandal due to a controversial coaching change, lost 33-0.

fina-gwangju-jul19The shellacking by the Hungarians was the largest margin of victory in World Championship history. To put this match into perspective, the visitors scored on an astounding 90% of their shots (64 of 71) and were led by Rebecca Parkes (11 goals) and Dorottya Szilagyi (10 goals on 10 shots).

In suffering their worst-ever defeat in World Championship play, the South Africans were perhaps responding to turmoil surrounding the firing of head coach Sarah Harris six weeks ago and Harris’ inflammatory account of the multiple ills besetting a program that has never accepted an Olympic berth, despite being guaranteed an automatic spot as the only eligible program from Africa. Protesting the unpopular move to remove Harris, a former national team player, both starting goalie Rebecca Thomas as well as captain—and five-time Worlds’ participant—Kelsey White quit the team.

[Seri Harris—Fired as Women’s Water Polo Coach—Drops a Bomb on Swimming South Africa]

Lauren Nixon and Zanne Smit —who stepped in for Thomas in goal—were battered by 41 shots; Simone van de Kraats (7 goals) and Maud Megens (6 goals on 6 shots) led the Dutch attack.

The unprecedented double debacle overshadowed a successful opening defense of their 2017 and 2015 titles by the favored American squad, which defeated New Zealand by 22-3. Newcomer Stephania Haralabidis found the back of the Kiwi net five times, while Paige Hauschild chipped in four goals. Amanda Longan and Ashleigh Johnson combined for nine saves as the U.S. pulled out to a 12-1 lead at halftime and were never headed in winning their 48th-straight match dating back to March 2018.

[18th FINA World Championships: A Numbers Game for US Women’s Water Polo]

There’s a tougher match ahead Tuesday, as Team USA will face Holland, its chief rival in Group A, at 6:10am (EST).

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Fierce action between Spain and Greece captured by FINA’s official photographer. Photo Courtesy: Hiroyuki Nakamura

The best match of the day was in Group D featured Italy versus Australia. Despite four scores by Rowie Webster, a goal by Silvia Avegno with three minutes remaining proved decisive, as the Italians blunted an Aussie rally from three-goals down and gave the them a 10-9 victory. Up next for Australia is a match against China, an 8-6 winner over Japan. Italy, which will face Japan, will look to take a commanding 2-0 record in the group.

In the China versus Japan match, Xiao Chen broke a 6-all tie early in the fourth period, while Yumi Arima led the Japanese with three goals.

In Group B action, Russia broke out to a 7-3 lead against Canada then piled on in the second half for an 18-10 win. Leading the way for the Russians was Ekaterina Prokofyeva with three goals. Kyra Christmas, the great lefty striker who plays for Pacific, notched three scores for the Canadians, while Jessica Gaudreault allowed all 18 Russian goals on 24 shots. Christmas, Gaudreault and their Canadian teammates will look to rebound against Hungary, which may be sluggish from the repeated success against the Koreans.

Russia will have the opportunity to challenge that Hungarian’s lopsided victory total when they face the host team on Tuesday.

South Africa will get back in the pool when they face New Zealand; in year’s past, this has been a competitive game. Given the uncertainty surrounding their team—prior to the tournament Steven la Marque, a longtime coach with the South African polo program was designated by Swimming South Africa as the head coach but Pierre le Roux, a former national team member, is listed on the start sheet as coach—it’s likely this match will not end well for the Africans.

Cuba, which dropped 9-6 decision to Group C rival Kazakhstan, will look to rebound against Greece, a 14-4 loser to Spain. The Spaniards, who are a serious contender for a medal, will face Kazakhstan in the other side of the group. In the decisive win against the Greeks, Roser Tarrago—who missed the 2017 Worlds due to injury—scorched goalies Ioanna Stamatopoulou and Mariana Kotsioni for six goals.

All action is available on FINAtv; for a listing of the U.S. games on The Olympic Channel, please click here.