|The U.S. women's water polo team celebrates in the closing second's of Thursday's gold medal game. (US Presswire)|
For the first time in history, the United States' women's water polo team has won gold.
There have been times in the past when the U.S. had the strongest perceived team heading into an Olympics, but it could never play up to those expectations. For example, four years ago the U.S. took silver, falling to the Netherlands. On Thursday night, finally, the U.S. did play like it was expected to. The top-seeded Americans defeated Spain, 8-5, in a game that wasn't all that competitive after the first 15 minutes.
When it was over, a significant moment for a niche American sport that rarely, if ever, sees glory or any significant headlines -- even with the Olympics.
Thirteen gold medals were draped around the necks of the players, another few going to the coaches. But before those cherished medals were handed out, everyone in U.S. colors was in the pool. As soon as triple zeros showed on the scoreboard, all the players and coaches hopped in the water, a customary gathering when a polo team wins a title or big game. Navy polo shirts, khakis, shoes and all -- it didn't matter. It was celebration aided by treading. It was a funny and delightful sight, for sure.
As for the game, it started off slow. Spain's Jennifer Pareja didn't get the first goal on the board until 5:28 remained in the first quarter. The U.S. tied it at 1 with 50 seconds to go in the first by star player Maggie Steffens, who will be a freshman at Stanford in the fall.
Steffens was the team's best player at these Games, scoring 21 for the tournament and five in Thursday's final. She gave the team the go-ahead score, at 3-2, with 5:36 left in the half. The U.S. would not relinquish that lead.
The U.S. was 8-for-17 on shots (compared to Spain's 5-for-28) and dominated the game despite losing out on time of possession, 16:58 to 15:02. The gold means good things for the women's program, but also USA water polo in general, as the men's team failed to reach the semifinals after falling to favorites Croatia in Wednesday's quarters.