Santa Barbara’s Kami Craig and the U.S. women’s water polo team earned a spot in the gold medal game at the London Olympics on Tuesday after an 11-9 overtime win over Australia in the semifinals.
Maggie Steffens scored four goals, including the go-ahead goal in the first overtime, and goalie Betsey Armstrong held Australia scoreless in both overtime periods, as the Americans advanced to the gold medal game for the third time in program history.
The Americans will play for the gold on Thursday against either Hungary or Spain.
The U.S. recovered after a penalty call against them with just one second left in regulation time. With a 9-8 lead, the team called a timeout when it didn’t have possession of the ball. That gave Australia a penalty shot, and the Aussies converted to send the game into overtime tied 9-9.
“It was my fault, it was a bad decision,” U.S. coach Adam Krikorian said of the time-out call. “I thought Betsey had the ball. Everything happened so quickly, but it was a big mistake on my part and it could have cost us the game. Sometimes the coach can let you down and the players need to pick you up. Thankfully they did that today.”
Craig said the last-second gaffe was no big deal.
“Who knows, who cares? We were ready to play overtime, the Santa Barbara High alum said. “We practice for these high-pressure situations.”
The U.S. dominated the first overtime period, keeping Australia off the board and posting two goals. Maggie Steffens hit the first score on a power play to grab the lead. Then with just three seconds left Craig connected out of two meters for an 11-9 lead. The two teams neutralized each other in the second and final overtime period.
Australia opened up a 2-0 lead in the first period. The Americans got on the board with 1:30 to play in the period when Courtney Mathewson delivered on the power play. Lauren Wenger followed on the next possession with a shot that ricocheted off the goalie’s hand, off the crossbar, and then back off the goalie’s head and into the cage for a 2-2 game. Australia drew a penalty on their next possession and converted for a 3-2 lead. That was followed by Wenger who came free with two seconds left in the period, evening the match at 3-3.
Melissa Seidemann gave the U.S. their first lead at 4-3 lead early in the second period, but Australia answered seconds later. Steffens came calling on the very next possession with a power play goal for a 5-4 lead. She followed that up moments later with a lob shot for a 6-4 advantage.
Australia rebounded with a goal on their next possession to close within 6-5. The Americans had a chance to rebuild a two-goal lead when Annika Dries drew a penalty, but Brenda Villa failed to convert and it remained a one-goal game at halftime.
Maggie Steffens broke through with a goal out of two meters for a 7-5 lead with 2:49 remaining in the third period. Less than a minute later Australia responded with a power play score for a 7-6 game as play moved to the fourth.
Three minutes into the fourth period Jessica Steffens connected on a power play for an 8-6 lead.
“Jess’s goal was clutch,” said her sister, Maggie. “I was on the bench thinking back to 2008 in Beijing, saying in my head, ‘Jess, this is you, this is you’. If you could have seen me when she scored I was jumping around like a crazy thing.”
Over the next three minutes Australia roared back with two straight power play goals, evening the game at 8-8 with 2:14 left. Seidemann answered the call for Team USA with 1:40 left, hitting on a power play for a 9-8 lead. That led to the closing seconds of regulation where Australia was able to tie the game on the penalty and force overtime.
This was the fourth consecutive time the two teams have met in an Olympic Games.
“There is great rivalry with them,” Wenger said of playing Australia. “They bring it, we bring it. It’s always going to be a great game.”
CANITEZ’ OLYMPICS END
Tugce Canitez saw her first Olympic experience come to an end on Tuesday as Russia narrowly defeated Turkey 66-63 in the quarterfinals of women’s basketball tournament. Canitez, who will return to Westmont later this month for her senior year, played five minutes in the second quarter.