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If there was any hope from the rest of the world that the United States’ stranglehold on women’s water polo had loosened, it may have evaporated in the wake of Team USA’s 18–2 win over New Zealand to open the 2018 FINA World Cup in Surgut, Russia.
Yes, the U.S. is back, and just as good as ever.
Team USA is the back-to-back reigning champion in every major competition there is to win in women’s water polo, namely holding the last two Olympic gold medals, the last two world championships and the last two World Cups. The Americans have also won the last four FINA World League Super Finals, making them the first team in women’s water polo history to hold all four titles at once. Just for good measure, Team USA has also won the last four Pan American Games titles, the most recent coming in 2015.
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Midway between the Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games, the Americans come into Russia as hot as could be, winners of 20 matches in a row, including a recent three-game sweep of Australia. Should they advance out of a group stage with remaining matches against South Africa and Canada, they will begin quarterfinal play on Sept. 7. Finals take place Sept. 9.
Maggie Steffens takes a shot at the 2017 FINA World Championships on July 28, 2017 in Budapest, Hungary.
Returning for Team USA are many of the key players from the 2017 world championship team as well as the team that won the gold medal at the Olympic Games Rio 2016. Seven Olympians — more than half of the 13-player roster — will play at the World Cup, including captain and two-time Olympic gold medalist Maggie Steffens. The rest of the roster all played at the world championships, save for lone newcomer Stephania Haralabidis, who played in the most recent World League Super Final.
With all that experience, Team USA is the prohibitive favorite to win a third World Cup in a row in Russia. On offense, Steffens leads an attack of outside shooters that have served the U.S. well for years along with Kiley Neushul and Rachel Fattal. Makenzie Fischer, a teenager in Rio, has emerged as one of Team USA’s strongest two-way players, scoring five goals at the 2017 world championships. Her sister Aria lines up at center. Ashleigh Johnson, named Top Goalkeeper at the 2014 World Cup, returns in net.
Other strong contenders include Spain, runner-up at the world championships, and hosts Russia, the defending World League, world championship and Olympic bronze medalists.
Todd Kortemeier is a sportswriter, editor and children’s book author from Minneapolis. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.