Saturday, October 29, 2011

USA Women Win Gold; A Finish For The Ages

For those that did not see last night's game the box score or write ups do not do it justice. The USA Women were in a hole 7-3 in the third quarter and when the dust settled, after an epic shootout, they had won the Gold and were headed to the 2012 Olympic Games with a 27-26 victory. The only comeback I can compare it to is when I witnessed Monmouth University men's basketball team come back from 20 points down in the second half to earn a berth to the NCAA Tournament, both at the time seemed equally as improbable.

In the women's match it was a back and forth first quarter that gave way to Canada taking over in the second quarter to build a 5-2 lead. Team USA's offense was struggling in the third quarter when Courtney Mathewson broke through with a score. That, to use a basketball analogy, seemed to take the lid off the goal. Mathewson was able to score a few more, Lauren Wenger added a goal and it was tied 7-7 in a matter of minutes.

Sometimes a team will exert such energy to complete a comeback they often don't have enough left to get over a hill, this was a concern here as Canada went up 8-7 on a goal with less than two minutes to play. Again some how the United States found a way as they drew a power play with less than 40 seconds to play and Kami Craig barred one in to tie the match. It once again seemed this might not be our night when Canada drew a five meter penalty with 11 seconds to play. For those that don't follow water polo a penalty shot, much like in soccer often favors the shooter. I'd be the conversion rate is somewhere around 80 percent. No matter because Betsey Armstrong stepped up with a block to force over time.

Two-three minute overtime periods later, as is standard in water polo, and we were on to a shootout. Shootouts generally go five rounds and if it is not decided by then it will go to one-offs with each team getting a chance. As you can imagine this game was still knotted after the first five shooters. The sixth shooters both hit and then on the seventh try Mathewson missed. Canada could take the game with a make, but again when a stop had to be made, Armstrong was there for the block and the game went on. It went on and on, not quite til the break of dawn, but still really long. On the 20th round of shooters we would get a decision. Maggie Steffens hit for the USA and Canada's shot barred out and a delayed realization set in...this thing was actually over and Team USA won. Cue the pandemonium from the USA bench as everyone was into the pool celebrating the Gold Medal, a berth to the 2012 Olympics, and perhaps the greatest water polo match anybody has ever seen.

"I told the girls this is the greatest game I've ever been a part of, maybe the most courageous, most mentally tough group of girls during one game that I've ever seen." -- Adam Krikorian, USA Head Coach

That pretty sums it up. We'll try and do it again later today, perhaps it less heart palpitating fashion, when the USA Men go for Gold against Canada at 5pm cst/3pm pst. Follow along on twitter @usawp or check out the live streaming here.

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