By Mike Sciacca
4:43 PM PDT, August 9, 2012
The will to win carried the U.S. Olympic women's water polo team to a big victory Tuesday.
And to an even bigger one Thursday .
For the first time in its history, the U.S. women have captured Olympic gold in water polo. The team accomplished the feat by dominating, then holding off, Spain, 8-5, in the tournament final Thursday at Water Polo Arena in London.
On Aug. 1, the teams had played to a 9-9 tie during preliminary round competition. Thursday's final, however, wasn't close. The U.S., which actually trailed, 2-1, scored six consecutive goals to take command. The outburst over two-plus quarters led to an 8-2 lead with just more than seven minutes left in the game.
Maggie Steffens (Danville, Calif.) led all scorers with five goals.
Also Thursday, Australia won the bronze medal by defeating Hungary, 13-11, in overtime.
Laguna Beach's Annika Dries made key contributions during Team's USA's run to gold.
The U.S. team reserved a spot in the gold medal game after scoring a thrilling, 11-9, overtime win Tuesday over Australia.
A game that seemed to have been won in regulation play by the Americans turned out to be a fight for survival.
The Aussies forced overtime by converting a penalty shot with one second left in regulation. With Team USA holding a 9-8 lead, Coach Adam Krikorian called a timeout without Team USA holding possession of the ball. The Aussies converted the penalty shot to send the game to overtime.
"It was my fault, it was a bad decision," Krikorian said. "I thought (Team USA goalie) Betsey (Armstrong) had the ball. Everything happened so quickly, but it was a big mistake on my part and it could have cost us the game. Sometimes the coach can let you down and the players need to pick you up. Thankfully they did that today.""
Steffens and Kami Craig (Santa Barbara) scored in overtime for Team USA, whose defense held Australia scoreless in both overtime periods.
"We were determined to win, and you could feel the energy just by looking in each other's eyes," Dries said Tuesday. "Even when Australia tied it at the end, there was no stopping our team. We never backed down. We played every second of that game as if it was our last."
Dries said that with the win against Australia, Team USA had taken its Olympic run to its ultimate destination: the gold medal game.
"Our team has been dreaming of this game for a long time," she said prior to Thursday's final. "We now have the chance to go and actually play it."
Two days later, she and her teammates would make history for the U.S. women's program, which played Thursday for the third time in an Olympic gold medal match. Four years ago, the team took silver in Beijing. It won bronze in 2004 and also took silver in its first title-game appearance in 2000.
The 2012 London Games end Sunday with Closing Ceremonies.
"It has been quite amazing to feel the energy of the world here in the (Olympic) village," Dries said. "I'm inspired daily by the efforts of all the athletes and teams here. It was just amazing walking out into the stadium during the Opening Ceremonies. Since the tournament started though, it's been all about our team and what we can do together."
Before wins this week over Spain and Australia, Team USA defeated Italy, 9-6, in a quarterfinal game Sunday, and finished group play undefeated Aug. 3 by defeating China, 7-6. Dries scored from the inside in the third quarter against China and her goal gave Team USA the lead for good at 4-3.
Kessy, Ross take silver in beach volleyball
Laguna Beach resident Jennifer Kessy and partner April Ross (Costa Mesa) had their first Olympic Games experience end in silver Wednesday.
The duo played two-time Olympic champions Misty May-Treanorand Kerri Walsh Jennings in the women's beach volleyball final at Horse Guards Parade. May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings became the first team to win three straight gold medals in women's beach volleyball by winning the match, 21-16, 21-16.
The three-time champs, the No. 3-seed in the tournament, went 7-0. May-Treanor and Walsh Jennings are 21-0 all-time in Olympic Games competition.
Kessy and Ross, the No. 4 seed in the tournament, finished first in group play and went 6-1overall. The pair reached the gold medal game by rallying to upset tournament favorites Juliana Felisberta and Larissa Franca of Brazil, 3-1, in Tuesday's semifinals.
Twenty-four teams from 17 countries competed in the tournament.