By Karen Price | April 08, 2018, 1:06 p.m. (ET)
The U.S. men's and women's water polo teams celebrate with their trophies at the FINA Intercontinental Tournament on April 8, 2018 in Auckland, New Zealand.

 

In the team’s first tournament since the 2017 world championships, the U.S. men’s water polo squad defeated Australia 9-6 to win gold at the FINA Intercontinental Tournament in Auckland, New Zealand, on Sunday.

Playing with five Olympians in Alex Bowen, Ben Hallock, Alex Obert, Alex Roelse and four-time Olympian Jesse Smith, the U.S. cruised through preliminary play undefeated.

Team USA opened the gold-medal game with a 2-0 lead and held a 4-3 lead at halftime.

Australia quickly tied it to open the third quarter, but Johnny Hooper and Max Irving gave the U.S. a 6-4 lead and the defense made sure Australia didn’t catch up again. Although Australia’s center forward, Joe Kayes, made it 6-5, Irving would score his third goal of the game to give Team USA a three-point lead in the fourth quarter and it held on for the victory.

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“Australia is such a great team, they are well coached and have really great players so it was great to match up against them,” Smith said. “We’ve had so much fun. They’ve done a great job with the tournament.”

Irving led the way in scoring for the U.S. with the hat trick, while Bowen and Marko Vavic each chipped in a pair of goals.

The U.S. beat Australia 10-9 in the final of the 2016 Intercontinental Tournament, but fell to the same country, 8-6, in 2017.

Karen Price is a reporter from Pittsburgh who has covered Olympic sports for various publications. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.