Women's Water Polo: USA Edges China in Shootout

John HoumesSenior Analyst IAugust 12, 2008

The heavily favored U.S. Women's Water Polo team came into yesterday's preliminary match as current World Champions, and looking to start the long road to the Gold Medal game.

China's squad entered the Yingdong Natatorium excited to play their first Olympic match ever. With no one over the age of 21, the Chinese had nothing to lose.

Natalie Golda opened up the scoring for Team USA before China answered with two goals in the next two minutes. The U.S. leveled it up by blocking a shot on a Chinese power play, and by an overpowering goal from Kami Craig at the two-meter position.

In the last minute of the first quarter, Teng Fei and Natalie Gold would score for China and the U.S. respectively to head to the second quarter tied-up at three.

China scored two goals to start the second quarter. They were followed by two more goals from the U.S., the second a Natalie Golda rocket launched from the top and into the right corner of the goal.

Goalie Betsy Armstrong blocked a close-range Chinese shot from 2-meters out. On the ensuing possession, Brittany Hayes pumped faked a shot, then lobbed the ball over the goalie's far shoulder and into the net less than a minute after Golda's score.

With 3:13 left in the 2nd half and down by one, China substituted their goalie. Teng Fei then scored a minute later to even the score before Natalie Golda sent another stunner into the goal from the top.

The U.S. suffered an exclusion foul, and China scored on the power play. But with 14 seconds left in the half, Brittany Hayes scored from the right wing off of a pass from U.S. Captain, Brenda Villa, to put them up by one.

In the third quarter China's starting goalie, Yang Jun, substituted back in to guard the net. But the U.S. welcomed her back to the pool by scoring, followed by a goal from China, then the U.S. again, followed by another China score.

China's Goa Ao scored her second and third goal of the match in the beginning of the fourth quarter to give China their first lead since the first part of the second quarter. But Cami Craig quickly scored her third goal on a U.S. power play to make the match even at 11.

With 3:32 left, Lauren Wenger scored off a pass from Brenda Villa during a power play to put the U.S. up by one. Thirty seconds later, the U.S. caught a break when China missed on a 7-meter shot after a penalty, but the U.S. turned the ball over on their next possession due to a poor shot.

Brenda Villa blocked a shot from China, but they recovered the ball and shot again. The U.S. caught another break as the ball bounced off the goal post. The U.S. took another poor shot during their next possession, and China recovered and set up their offense.

With one minute on the clock, the U.S. played sharp defense, not giving the Chinese any option but to force a weak lob towards the goal with the shot clock running down.

The U.S. set up on offense and Brenda Villa kept possession calmly, not allowing her smaller opponent to come near the ball. With the shot clock running down, Villa passed the ball off and the U.S. swam back into defensive positions.

The U.S.' shot clock expired and China called time out to make the most of their last opportunity to tie the game again.

When the whistle resumed play for the last seconds, China tried to draw a foul, but the U.S. played disciplined defense, and the clock expired while the Chinese were still looking for a shot.

In the U.S.' 12-11 victory over China, there were five lead changes and the score was tied at eight different points. Natalie Golda lead all scoring with four goals, and Kami Craig scored three times.

While this made for an exciting match, it was the first time the U.S. had allowed a team to score in the double digits in eight years.

The U.S. tallied six exclusion fouls resulting in Chinese power plays. A power play occurs when a player is excluded from play for 20-seconds due to the degree of aggression of the foul. Exclusion fouls happen multiple times a game (it should not be thought of as basketball's technical foul), but on a player's third exclusion foul, they are dismissed from the match. 

The U.S. only allowed one goal while they were a man down. This either means they were playing solid defense, or that the Chinese were inexperienced in power play situations. But while their man-down defense was strong, the U.S. allowed nine goals from open play (the tenth was a penalty shot). The U.S. will have to tighten up their defense while decreasing the number of their exclusion fouls if they hope to advance all the way to the Gold Medal game.

The U.S. women face Italy on Wednesday.