USA beats Italy, second straight Olympic gold in women's water polo

ESPN logo
Saturday, August 20, 2016

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.

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.

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 and beloved Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

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.

Krikorian brushed away any talk of winning it all for him and his family, insisting Blake himself would think it was a ludicrous notion, but his players pledged their support for their grieving coach. And they delivered with their play -- all the way to the gold medal.