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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | WATER POLO

U.S. Handles Defeat Calmly

Women's water polo: Americans lose to hosts, 7-6, but keep medal hopes alive.

September 19, 2000|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — Having already been assured of a place in the four-team medal round, the U.S. women's water polo team was stung but not flustered by its 7-6 loss to Australia today before a lively crowd at the Ryde Aquatic Center.

Certainly, there are elements of its game that can be refined.

The U.S. power play was ineffective, converting only three of 10 opportunities, while Australia was three for six. And the U.S. might consider tinkering with its zone defense, after Australia repeatedly isolated forwards in front of the U.S. goal for dangerous shots.

"We had a lot of movement on their press," said Australian center back Naomi Castle, who tied the score 3-3 with an extra-man goal 40 seconds into the third quarter. "We had a few kickouts where we could score a few goals. . . . We needed to come up emotionally today, and we really did."

Australia (3-1-0) rode a four-goal spurt in the third quarter to vault back atop the six-team group and clinch a place in Friday's semifinals. The placements and semifinal matchups will be determined Wednesday by the last round-robin games; the U.S. (2-1-1) has five points and will advance to the medal round even if Russia also finishes with five points because the U.S--led driver Coralie Simmons with three goals and two assists--defeated Russia Monday, 7-5.

Knowing his team is sure to advance, U.S. Coach Guy Baker had the luxury today of resting centerback Robin Beauregard, who has a sore knee. But the U.S. was at full emotional and physical readiness against Australia--and so were their respective cheering sections, which vied for supremacy in volume, pompom shaking and flag waving.

"I think it was an entertaining game," Baker said. "When you shoot that low a percentage [on extra-man chances], you're fortunate to lose by only a goal.

"Most of these games come down to who can do well six-on-five or five-on-six. It's like free throws in basketball. You've got to do well in those areas."

Baker even felt comfortable enough to joke that to regroup after the team's first Olympic loss, "we yell at them a while and we'll swim." He planned no such punishment, because he felt none was needed.

"We'll be fine," he said. "I think all the teams are settling down a little bit. It's the first Olympic women's tournament, so there are some nerves and you're always nervous in the Olympic Games. There were some tremendous goal scorers on both sides."

The teams were even after the first quarter and the U.S. took a 3-2 lead on an extra-man goal by Ericka Lorenz in the second quarter. But Australia scored three consecutive goals within 71 seconds in the third quarter to pull ahead. Brenda Villa halted the Aussies' momentum with a straight-on goal during a power play with 4:35 left in the quarter, but Australian captain Bridgette Gusterson got free down low for a center shot that eluded U.S. goalkeeper Nicolle Payne with 3:20 left in the quarter for a 6-4 Australia lead.

"We had a great quarter," Gusterson said. "We were really dynamic. The Americans play a very heavy press, and we needed to get away from that."

Goals by Ellen Estes in the third quarter and Villa with 3:17 left in the fourth brought the U.S. even, but Gusterson's bouncing extra-man goal with 2:56 to play was decisive.

"They have an excellent team," said Australia Coach Istvan Gorgenyi, a Hungarian who was imported to lift the program to gold-medal standards.

"This was a full game. We played against a team that would do anything to win. They didn't have any pressure. We had pressure. But they wanted to win. That's why I'm so happy, because we won against a very good team."

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