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.