U.S. women’s water polo begins gold medal defense with decisive win over Spain

U.S. women's water polo gets decisive win over Spain

Olympics: Water Polo-Women's Team-Preliminary Round Group B-Spain (ESP) vs United States (USA)

Exactly four years ago Tuesday the U.S. women’s water polo team met Spain in the gold medal game of the London Olympics. Tuesday the two teams met again as the U.S. began their quest to be the first women’s team in Olympic history to win back-to-back gold medals.

If there is such a thing as a gold medal hangover, the U.S. showed no signs of it, jumping out to a lead early and carrying it through the match on the way to an 11-4 win over Spain.

The U.S. got goals from 8 of their 11 position players, including six different players in the first half. Team captain Maggie Steffens, who had five goals in that gold medal match four years ago, was kept quiet in the first half, but it didn’t matter, as six of her teammates scored to help the Americans get off to a 7-2 lead after two quarters.

Though their scoring slowed in the second half, the U.S. defense went to work from there. Goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson stopped 11 of Spain’s 15 shots on the day – six in the first half. Johnson was a perfect 6-6 on shots from beyond five meters and had two saves in Spain’s three extra player shot attempts.

Spain shot just 19 percent in the game. They had one goal in each quarter.

Kiley Neushul gave the U.S. a quick 2-0 lead to start the match, and matched Steffens and Courtney Mathewson to lead the team with two goals each.

Both of Steffens’s goals came within a minute of each other in the third quarter. She scored from close range on a floating pass by Kaleigh Gilchrist with 3:45 left in the third, and then put a penalty shot into the goal to give the U.S. a 9-3 lead, their largest of the match to that point.

The U.S. was a perfect 2-2 on penalty shots and 3-3 on extra player shots. They shot just over 52 percent in the match.

The game also saw the return of U.S. coach Adam Krikorian, who briefly left the team over the weekend to be with his family in California following the death of his brother, Blake. Krikorian, who has coached the women’s team since 2009, returned to Rio on Monday.

Maica Garcia led Spain with two goals on three shots.

The Americans came into Tuesday’s game as not only the defending Gold Medalists, but defending World Champions, World Cup, World League and Pan Am Games Champions. The team is looking to keep their streak of winning a medal in each Olympics intact. Since women’s water polo joined the Games in 2000, the U.S. has won one gold, two silver and a bronze.

The title defense for the U.S. will continue on Thursday when they take on China at 10:40 a.m. ET. Spain will look for their first win at noon ET Thursday when they take on Hungary.

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