USA water polo overcomes late blunder

By Ann Killion
LONDON - A big blunder, late in an Olympic semifinal, could easily spell disaster.

But it wasn't a problem for the U.S. women's water polo team.

The team - laden with Pac-12 players - overcame a slow start in the pool and a late mistake on the pool deck to beat Australia and advance to its third gold medal game in Olympic history.

"I was thinking I could have blown the game," said coach Adam Krikorian, who called his late-game time out "a big blunder."

With a one-goal lead in regulation, and seconds ticking off the clock, the U.S. goalkeeper Betsey Armstrong blocked a last-minute shot by Australia. Krikorian thought Armstrong held onto the ball and called a time out, but the ball had ricocheted away, meaning he wasn't allowed to call time.

"Everything was happening so fast," said Krikorian, a former UCLA water polo captain, who coached the men's and women's teams at UCLA for ten years before taking over the national team in 2009.

After a prolonged discussion by the officials, Australia was awarded a penalty shot, converted it and regulation - a victory a second earlier - ended in a tie. 

Before heading into overtime, Krikorian looked at his team and said, "My bad."

"I'm a big believer in, when you mess up, you've got to own up to it,'"  said Krikorian, who admitted it took him a couple of minutes to regain his own composure after the mistake.

But the U.S. players weren't upset.

"We've overcome adversity before," said captain Brenda Villa, the former Stanford star who is playing in her fourth Olympics.

"The team picked me up today," Krikorian said. "That's the sign of a great team."

Leading the way was the youngest player on the team, Maggie Steffens. The 19-year-old, who will be a freshman at Stanford in a month, scored a goal in overtime, her fourth of the game and her 16th of the tournament.

"Maggie has been coming up big," Villa said.

Steffens said the team was determined not to let any late-game problems derail them.

"We looked at each other and said, 'We've been through this before,'" Steffens said. "Nothing's going to affect us. We're going to be the team that finishes this. We knew that whatever it came down to, we're going to keep fighting."

They did. Kami Craig, who graduated a year ago from USC, added another overtime goal. And the U.S. advanced to its third gold medal game in Olympic history. The Americans will play Spain in search of their first gold medal.
Also contributing to the scoring on Saturday was Maggie's older sister Jessica Steffens, a Stanford graduate, USC's Lauren Wenger, UCLA's Courtney Mathewson and Stanford's Melissa Seidemann, who scored what appeared to be the winning goal until Krikorian's mishap.
"I'm so excited," Maggie Steffens said. "Every since I was little I've wanted to be an Olympian and now I'm in the gold medal game."

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