U.S. defeats Italy, wins first back-to-back gold in women’s water polo history

Gold medal game – USA 12, Italy 5

The U.S. women’s water polo team faced several questions heading into Rio.

Would they be able to keep up their winning streak dating back more than a year? Would their youth be a problem against so many teams with much more Olympic experience? Would they be able to make history as the first women’s team to win back-to-back gold medals?

Friday, they left no question who the best team in the world really is.

For the fifth time in six games, the U.S. never trailed, dominating Italy from the get-go on their way to a 12-5 win.

The U.S. stuck to what has made them successful throughout the Rio Games – find offense from anyone and everyone, and shut the other team down on defense.

Italy scored just one goal in each of the second, third and fourth quarters. The Italians came into the gold medal match averaging just over 10 goals a game.

For the U.S., their depth again paid off with eight different players scoring a goal. Even after scoring 12 goals, the bulk of the U.S. offense came from role players. Kiley Neushul led the U.S. with three goals on four shots. Neushul had seven goals prior to the gold medal game.

Rachel Fattal and Makenzie Fischer added two goals apiece after scoring just two and five goals each in the previous five games.

Italy goalkeeper Giulia Gorlero, who came into the game with the highest save percentage of any keeper in Rio, had little answer for the U.S. offense, coming away with nine saves.

Ashleigh Johnson also had nine saves in goal for the U.S. on 13 shot attempts. Johnson finished the Rio games with a 64.5 percent save percentage.

Johnson even helped out on offense. Late in the third quarter, Johnson came away with a save and threw a long pass down the pool to Fischer, who quickly passed it off to Melissa Seidemann who had all defenders beat. Seidemann put it in the goal to put the U.S. up 8-3, their largest lead of the game to that point.

The U.S. finished the Rio Games with a goal differential of 41 after scoring 73 goals and allowing just 32 in six games played.

The win is the second gold for head coach Adam Krikorian, who left Rio prior to the opening ceremonies after the sudden death of his brother Blake. Krikorian returned to Brazil the day before the tournament began, and said at the time that the team was “lifting him up,” after the tragedy.

Krikorian joins players Seidemann, captain Maggie Steffens, Courtney Mathewson, and Kami Craig as two-time gold medal winners. Steffens finishes the Rio Games with 17 goals, including one Friday, to lead all scorers in the women’s tournament.

The U.S. has now won a medal in all five Olympics that women have played water polo. They’re also the first to win back-to-back gold.

Italy takes home the silver medal for just their second women’s water polo medal. They previously won gold in 2004.

Women’s water polo is also the first team gold for the U.S. in the Rio Games.