U.S. women’s water polo team wins world championship, extends unrivaled streak

Maddie Musselman
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The U.S. women’s water polo team won its record-extending fourth consecutive world championship, completing yet another undefeated run through a major tournament.

The Americans, winners of the last three Olympic titles, beat host Hungary 9-7 in Saturday’s final in Budapest, nearly squandering an 8-4 lead in the fourth quarter.

“The difference was our defense,” U.S. head coach Adam Krikorian said. “I don’t think we were very pretty offensively.”

Since the start of 2016, the U.S. has lost just one game among the Olympics, World Championship, World Cup and World Super League Final. That came in group play in Tokyo.

The U.S. won a believed-to-be record 69 consecutive games from April 2018 to January 2020 and went into the Tokyo Games on a 172-5 run over the previous five and a half years.

The string of six consecutive global championships — Olympics or worlds — is the longest ever for men or women. The span of global titles — now seven years — matches the Yugoslavian men, who won two Olympic titles and two world titles from 1984-91.

Seven of the 13 Tokyo Olympians returned for these worlds, led by Tokyo Olympic MVP Maddie Musselman, who scored five goals in Saturday’s final, goalie Ashleigh Johnson, who blocked 10 Hungary shots, and captain Maggie Steffens, who scored once Saturday.

Rising Stanford junior Ryann Neushul, whose older sisters Kiley and Jamie were on Olympic gold-medal teams, made her world championship debut in Budapest and scored three goals Saturday.

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U.S. Olympic men’s water polo team named on heels of best result in five years

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On the heels of its best finish in five years, the U.S. Olympic men’s water polo team was named on Friday.

The 13-player squad is led by Jesse Smith, who will join Tony Azevedo (2000-2016) as the only U.S. water polo players to compete at five Olympics. At 38, Smith is the fourth oldest Olympic water player in the sport’s 121-year Olympic history, according to Olympedia.org.

Smith was named captain and will be joined by 2016 Olympians Alex BowenLuca CupidoBen Hallock and Alex Obert.

Six of the Olympic rookies have been with the national team since 2017 — Hannes Daube, Drew HollandJohnny HooperMax Irving,  Marko Vavic, Alex Wolf — while Dylan Woodhead played for the U.S. at two tournaments between 2018 and 2019, and Ben Stevenson was on the 2018 World Cup roster.

The team is coached by Dejan Udovicic, the famed Serbian coach who has been at the helm of the U.S. men’s program since 2013.

The U.S. has never won an Olympic gold medal in men’s water polo, while the women’s team — which was named last week — is expected to win a third straight in Tokyo.

The men’s outlook is favorable for a potential first Olympic medal in 13 years, though, after the squad took silver at the World League Super Final on Thursday.

The U.S. went 2-1 in group play in Tbilisi, Georgia, losing only to Montenegro, before taking down France in the quarterfinal and reigning world champion Italy in the semis, 10-8.

Facing Montenegro, fourth at the last three Olympics, again in the gold-medal match, the U.S. came close but lost 9-8.

The silver was the first medal at a major international tournament since 2016, when the team also took World League silver.

The last Olympic medal for the U.S. men was silver in 2008.

Serbia, Croatia and Italy have been on the last two Olympic podiums. Spain, the 2019 World silver medalist, is also a threat.

The U.S. men face South Africa, Hungary and Greece in Group A beginning July 25.

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U.S. Olympic women’s water polo team named, eyes extending historic run

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Maggie Steffens and Ashleigh Johnson again lead the U.S. Olympic women’s water polo team, which goes for a third consecutive gold in Tokyo.

The 13-player roster announced Wednesday includes eight returning Olympians:

Rachel Fattal (2016)
Aria Fischer (2016)
Makenzie Fischer (2016)
Kaleigh Gilchrist (2016)
Stephania Haralabidis
Paige Hauschild
Ashleigh Johnson (2016)
Amanda Longan
Maddie Musselman (2016)
Jamie Neushul
Melissa Seidemann (2012, 2016)
Maggie Steffens (2012, 2016)
Alys Williams

The Americans are 169-5 dating to December 2015, not dropping a game at an Olympics, World Championship, World Cup or a World League Super Final in that span.

The U.S. won a believed-to-be record 69 consecutive games from April 2018 to January 2020. Since that one defeat, it won all 16 of its games.

The U.S. hopes to become the third nation to win three consecutive Olympic water polo titles, joining the Hungarian men (2000-08) and British men (1900-20). Women’s water polo debuted at the Olympics in 2000.

ON HER TURF: More on the U.S. Olympic women’s water polo team

Adam Krikorian has been head coach since 2009 with a bevy of talent at his disposal. The most prominent player is Maggie Steffens, a member of every title team in the 2010s at the Olympics, worlds, World Cup and World League.

Johnson made her Olympic debut in Rio as the starting goalie and the first Black woman to play on a U.S. Olympic water polo team. After Rio, she took a break from the national team to write her 80-page senior thesis at Princeton, graduating in 2017 and returning to the program. She was MVP of the 2019 World Championship final, an 11-6 win over Spain.

Of the 13 players, 11 are from California. Johnson is from Miami. Haralabidis is set to become the first woman known to be born in Greece to compete for the U.S. at an Olympics in any sport, according to Olympedia.org.

The U.S. Olympic men’s water polo team will be named at a later date.

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