USA wins gold in women’s wa­ter polo

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - OLYMPIC GAMES -

RIO DE JANEIRO >> Ash­leigh John­son made nine saves, Ki­ley Neushul scored three goals on four shots and the United States routed Italy 12-5 on Fri­day for its sec­ond straight Olympic gold medal in women’s wa­ter polo.

Maken­zie Fis­cher and Rachel Fat­tal each had two goals for the Amer­i­cans, who stretched their win streak to 22 games with their sixth vic­tory in Rio de Janeiro by a com­bined score of 73-32.

“I think we really did change the game,” said John­son, who was voted the top goal­tender of the tour­na­ment. “We played com­pletely dif­fer­ent than the game’s ever been played be­fore. Really fast, in­tel­li­gent, it’s really fun to watch and it’s great to play.”

Neushul and tour­na­ment MVP Mag­gie St­ef­fens each gave coach Adam Kriko­rian a big hug as they left in the fi­nal minute, and Neushul pat­ted him on the head. When the fi­nal sec­onds ticked off, Kriko­rian walked over to con­grat­u­late Italy coach Fabio Conti, and then was tack­led into the pool by a cou­ple of his ju­bi­lant play­ers.

“To play as well as we did to­day in that mo­ment and that at­mos­phere in a gold medal game when you’ve been think­ing about this for the last four years is just, it’s a dream come true,” Kriko­rian said.

In an­other Olympics dom­i­nated by U.S. women, St­ef­fens and her team­mates shined as brightly as any of them. The wa­ter polo tour­na­ment shifted to the Olympic Aquat­ics Sta­dium fol­low­ing the swim­ming com­pe­ti­tion, and the ar­ray of Pac-12 stars that dom­i­nate the U.S. ros­ter picked up right where Katie Ledecky and com­pany left off, wear­ing down their op­po­nents with su­pe­rior speed, ath­leti­cism and strength.

The U.S. women were the over­whelm­ing fa­vorites all along — and they played like it.

The Amer­i­cans pounded Brazil 13-3 be­fore out­slug­ging Hun­gary 14-10 in the semi­fi­nals. They held the lead af­ter 23 of their 24 quar­ters and trailed for a to­tal of only 44 sec­onds — in the first quar­ter against Hun­gary on Wed­nes­day.

By the time Kriko­rian and the U.S. staff hit the pool for a cel­e­bra­tory swim, the Amer­i­cans pos­sessed each of the ma­jor crowns in women’s wa­ter polo, adding a sec­ond Olympic gold to their world cham­pi­onship, World Cup and World League Su­per Fi­nal ti­tles.

The scene af­ter the fi­nal was the top of an emo­tional roller coaster for Kriko­rian, who rushed home be­fore the United States’ first game to be with his fam­ily af­ter the sud­den death of his brother Blake, a for­mer wa­ter polo player at UCLA.

Be­fore de­part­ing for Cal­i­for­nia, Kriko­rian met with his play­ers and urged them to make the most of their Olympic ex­pe­ri­ence. He re­turned in time for an open­ing 11-4 vic­tory over Spain, but nearly broke down in tears while talk­ing about his brother af­ter the win.

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