Alys Williams competes in USA Water Polo's final pool play match at the 2019 FINA World Championships on July 18, 2019 in Gwangju, South Korea.
The U.S. women’s water polo team not only won its group and earned a ticket directly into the quarterfinals at the FINA World Championships, it also did so with a bit of a milestone win.
The squad’s 26-1 victory over South Africa on Thursday in Gwangju, South Korea, was its 50th win in a row, believed to be the longest winning streak in the Olympic era of women’s water polo, which began in 2000. The team hasn’t lost in over a year, a streak going back to April 2018.
The two-time defending world champions and top-ranked team in the world will play in the quarterfinals on Monday against a yet-to-be-determined opponent. The medal rounds are scheduled for July 26.
Thursday’s lopsided victory was over almost as soon as it began. The U.S. scored seven goals in the first quarter and added eight in the second to lead 15-1 midway through the match. Olympian Maddie Musselman led the team in scoring with five goals, while a total of nine players got on the scoreboard and goalkeepers Ashleigh Johnson and Amanda Longan combined for seven saves. Johnson was also part of that 2016 Olympic champion team.
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The U.S. opened the tournament Saturday with a decisive 22-3 victory over New Zealand, once again jumping out to a big lead right from the get-go. Paige Hauschild scored a pair and Stephania Haralabidis added three of her team-leading five goals on the night to help the U.S. take an 8-0 lead in the first quarter, which would then be 12-1 at halftime. Johnson and Longan again teamed up in net and made a combined nine saves.
Next up was the Netherlands, and the U.S. walked away with a 12-9 win and the chance to close out Group A undefeated. It was the only one of the three in which the U.S. ever trailed, with the Netherlands scoring first and also leading 4-3 in the second quarter. The match was tied 4-4 at halftime and then again 7-7 in the third quarter. The U.S. then jumped ahead to take a 10-7 lead in the fourth quarter but again the Netherlands came back and pulled within one. Musselman and Olympian Rachel Fattal scored the final two goals for the victory. Musselman and fellow Olympian Kaleigh Gilchrist led the team with three goals apiece.
The Americans are looking for their unprecedented sixth world title. The five titles they currently own are already more than any other women’s water polo team in history. Nine members of the team competing in South Korea won gold at the Olympic Games Rio 2016, and 10 were members of the 2017 world championship team.
In addition to the last two Olympic and world titles, the U.S. women also hold the other two major titles in the sport, having won the last three FINA World Cups and 10 of the last 11 World League Super Finals titles, including the last six in a row.
After the competition in Gwangju, the team will head to Peru and aim to win its fifth straight Pan American Games championship as well.
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.