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Few teams have been as dominant in their sports as the U.S. women’s water polo team in recent years, so it may be hard to judge which team is better from one year to the next.
After all, the Americans have won the last two Olympic gold medals, last two world championships and nine out of the last 10 FINA World League Super Finals, including the last five in a row. They currently hold all the major titles in women’s water polo, too, including the Olympic Games, world championships, World League and World Cup — as well as the Pan American Games and Intercontinental Tournament titles.
Now the team will go for a sixth consecutive win at the World League Super Final beginning Tuesday in Budapest, Hungary, and the bad news for opponents is that this squad has more than enough depth, experience and skill to accomplish that goal. After all, nine of the 15 players named to the roster — 13 of whom will be named to the roster prior to each match — were on the team that went undefeated at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.
This roster features the greatest number of Olympians of any U.S. team that has been assembled since the Rio Games. All other tournaments varied from two to seven Olympians.
The team that wins the whole thing in Budapest will not only claim the Super Final title but also, for the first time in Super Final history, the winner will earn an Olympic berth for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
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Paige Hauschild plays the ball.
Leading the U.S. are a pair of two-time Olympians, captain Maggie Steffens and Melissa Seidemann. Steffens was the leading scorer both in 2012 with 21 — setting a record for most goals scored in Olympic women’s water polo — and again in 2016 with 17 goals, and was named tournament MVP both times. Seidemann scored two goals in last year’s Super Final championship win over the Netherlands, and both she and Steffens have eight Super Final wins to their names.
Joining them are fellow 2016 Olympians Maddie Musselman, Rachel Fattal, Kiley Neushul, Kaleigh Gilchrist, Ashleigh Johnson and sisters Aria and Makenzie Fischer. Last year’s Super Final squad featured six members of the 2016 team.
Johnson was named goalkeeper of the 2018 Super Final and was the top goalkeeper of the 2016 Olympics with 51 saves on 79 shots. Along with Steffens and Musselman, she was named to the Olympic All-Star team.
Also on the squad competing in Budapest — where the U.S. won the 2017 FINA World Championship title — are Jamie Neushul, Alys Williams, Jordan Raney, Stephania Haralabidis, Paige Hauschild and Amanda Longan. Included on the national team resumes of Williams, Raney, Haralabidis, Neushul and Hauschild is a spot on last year’s Super Final roster, making this team not only decorated but also highly experienced.
Makenzie Fischer, Longan and Hauschild were also this year’s nominees for the Cutino Award given to the country’s best collegiate water polo players. Fischer won the award on Saturday night.
Eight teams are competing in the Super Final. Joining the U.S. in Group B are Canada, Hungary and Russia. Australia, China, Italy and the Netherlands make up Group A. Teams will get three points for a regulation win, two for a shootout win, none for a loss and one for a shootout loss.
The U.S. faces Hungary on Tuesday, followed by matches against Canada on Wednesday and Russia on Thursday. The quarterfinals begin on Friday with the gold-medal match on Sunday.
This is the first of three opportunities for the U.S. to qualify for an Olympic berth this year. The other two are the FINA World Championships in July and the Pan American Games that wrap in August.
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.