By Blythe Lawrence | March 31, 2019, 9:26 a.m. (ET)

Kiley Neushul competes at the Olympic Gams Rio 2016 on Aug. 19, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro.

 

Even without captain Maggie Steffens, the U.S. women’s water polo team came through in a penalty shootout to defend its gold medal at the FINA Intercontinental Tournament on Sunday in Perth, Australia, neutralizing the host country 14-12.

Two-time Olympic gold medalist Steffens sustained a head injury during Saturday night’s 14-7 semifinal win against Canada, and was not able to take part in Sunday’s final, leaving her teammates to finish the job of taking their fourth win in five years at this tournament.

The win was Team USA’s 36th in a row, a streak dating back to last year’s Intercontinetal Tournament when the team fell to Australia in the opening round. The Americans recovered to claim that Intercontinental Tournament title, as well as the FINA World Cup and FINA World League Super Final titles.

On Sunday, the U.S. waded out to an 8-4 lead at the half, but Australia fought back in front of a home crowd 1,000 strong, winning the third period 2-1 and then holding the U.S. to 3-0 in the third.

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Tied 9-9 at the end of regulation, the match went to a shootout, where U.S. goalie Ashleigh Johnson successfully blocked the first shot from Australia’s Isobel Bishop. Meanwhile, all five American shooters proved succesful, securing the victory for Team USA. 

Stephanie Haralabidis, Kiley Neushul and Kaleigh Gilchrist each contributed two goals for Team USA.

"We are not in the best shape and we stopped attacking after halftime, but a great team like Australia, you can't hold them down forever,” U.S. coach Adam Krikorian commented after the match. “With not having Maggie Steffens on the team everyone had to play a little bit more and a little bit better, and thankfully they did."

Blythe Lawrence is a freelance journalist from Seattle who has covered two Olympic Games and is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc. Follow her on Twitter at @rockergymnastix.