By Karen Price | June 09, 2019, 3:19 p.m. (ET)

 

The U.S. women’s water polo team qualifying for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 has never really been a question of “if.”

Since winning its second consecutive Olympic gold medal in Rio nearly three years ago, the team has only further cemented its status as the best in the world, holding onto every major title possible in the sport.

Without the “if,” there was only the “when,” and that question is now answered. 

Along with the gold medal won at the FINA World League Super Final on Sunday with their 10-9 defeat over Italy in the championship match in Budapest, Hungary, the U.S. officially earned its place in Tokyo. 

This will be the team’s sixth trip to the Olympics, with the U.S. having competed every year since the sport’s introduction to the schedule in 2000. (Men’s water polo has been contested in the Olympics since 1900).

The U.S. is the only women’s team to win the gold medal at the Olympics more than once. It’s also the only team to medal in all of the previous five Olympic women’s water polo tournaments. In addition to winning gold in 2012 and 2016, the Americans also won silvers in 2000 and 2008 and bronze in 2004.

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After claiming its long-awaited title in 2012, however, the U.S. has emerged as one of the most dominant teams across any Olympic sport, now holding the last two Olympic gold medals, the last two world titles, the last three FINA World Cups and 10 of the last 11 World League Super Final titles, including the last six in a row. For good measure, the U.S. is also the defending Pan American Games and Intercontinental Tournament champion.

Not to leave anything to chance, USA Water Polo brought a stacked team to the Super Final in which nine of the 15 players were members of the 2016 Olympic team: two-time Olympians Maggie Steffens and Melissa Seidemann as well as Maddie Musselman, Rachel Fattal, Kiley Neushul, Kaleigh Gilchrist, Ashleigh Johnson and sisters Aria and Makenzie Fischer. It’s the greatest number of Olympians to play on a U.S. team since Rio.

Their Super Final teammates who wish to add “Olympian” to their names next year include Jamie Neushul, Alys Williams, Jordan Raney, Stephania Haralabidis, Paige Hauschild and Amanda Longan.

In all, the squad featured not only nine Olympians but also six two-time world champions and 13 reigning FINA World Cup title holders.

They are guided by coach Adam Krikorian, who recently celebrated 10 years at the helm. 

The U.S. squad’s depth, experience and leadership were evident from the start in Budapest. Playing every day since Tuesday, the U.S. rolled through pool play with a 3-0 record then advanced through Friday’s quarterfinal and Saturday’s semifinal, beating China and the Netherlands.

In the championship match, Makenzie Fischer led the way for Team USA, scoring four goals.

This was the last big event for the U.S. team before the FINA World Championships in July. It was also the first of three opportunities teams have to qualify for the Olympic Games in water polo this year. The other two are the world championships and each team’s continental championships.

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.