USA Women Prevail over Holland in 3rd Day of FINA World Water Polo Championships

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Maddie Musselman—only 21 and playing in her third FINA Worlds—tallied three times against Holland. Photo Courtesy: USAWP

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In a match-up that offered parallels with both the recent and distant past, including a win 10 days ago by the United States in the 2019 Women’s World Cup , the USA women’s water polo team overcame a determined Dutch squad in group play to capture a 12-9 victory on the third day of play at the 18th FINA World Championships.

fina-gwangju-jul19The win, the American’s 49th straight, gave them a commanding lead (2-0) in Group A with a match against hapless South Africa to be played on Thursday. Holland, which on Sunday had thrashed the South Africans by 33-0, is now 1-1 in the group with a match on Thursday against New Zealand.

Like the contentious World Cup soccer final, where the Americans broke open a tight game against Holland with a couple of goals midway through the second half, Team USA was finally able to separate from a tough Netherlands side late in the third period.  With a minute remaining, Maggie Steffens (two goals) converted a beautiful feed from Mackenzie Fischer to give her team a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. A two-goal burst early in the final quarter then gave the U.S. a 10-7 advantage, allowing head coach Adam Krikorian’s side to hold off a late Dutch rally.

Leading the American scoring attack with a hat trick each were Kaleigh Gilchrist and Maddie Musselman. Amanda Longan stood tall in the U.S. cage, turning away 8 of 17 Dutch shots.

For Holland, which lost to the U.S. for the 14th straight time, Maartje Keuning tallied twice. Maud Megens, who has enjoyed a successful collegiate career at USC, was hampered by foul trouble, only scoring a lone goal late in the match. Joanne Koenders, Holland’s 22-year-old goalie, kept her team in the game until the fourth period, when the Americans broke open a tight game with four goals. In only second ever World Championship match, she finished with 11 saves on 23 attempts and often proved up to the challenge of the faster, more aggressive American attack.

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Holland’s Sabrina Van Der Sloot. Photo Courtesy: FINA

When Simone Van De Kraats scored on Holland’s opening possession of the game, it was the first—albeit brief—time the Americans had trailed in World Championship play since going two goals down to Russia in the semifinals of the 2017 FINA Worlds in Budapest. Team USA came back and won that match, and Steffens, as she has so many times before, quickly rallied her squad with a power play goal—one of four scores by the Americans with the man advantage. Bente Rogge, who has faced Longan the last three years as a member of Arizona State’s squad—beat the former USC standout on her team’s next possession to put Holland up 2-1.

Team USA end up leading 3-2 at the end of one period, thanks to back-to-back goals from Gilchrist, but the Dutch got goals from Nomi Stomphorst and Iris Wolves midway through the second frame. It took a power play goal from Musselman to draw the Americans even at intermission.

The third period saw a back-and-forth between the two teams, as goals by Musselman, Fischer and Gilchrist were answered by Dagmar Genee, Maartje Keuning and Sabrina Van Der SlootSwimming World’s 2018 Female Water Polo Player of the year. Steffen’s power play score broke the tie, and the Yanks’ fourth quarter flourish helped push the Americans to yet another win.

The Dutch will pad their goal differential against New Zealand on Thursday, while the Americans will look to extend a string of dominance in FINA Worlds play that dates back four years, when they beat Holland 5-4 in the 2015 World Championship title match.

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

Going forward, the challenge for both squads are clear; Holland must find a way to finish against Team USA, while Krikorian’s squad will need to keep focused on the prize: an unprecedented third-straight FINA Worlds title and an incredible 12th straight major title. And maybe prove that they—and not the U.S. National Soccer Team—are the best women’s team in the world.