Maggie Steffens during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 30, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.
The bad news: The U.S. women’s water polo team lost its first game in Olympic competition in 13 years this week.
The good news: It doesn’t matter.
Team USA bounced back after its first Olympic loss since the 2008 gold-medal game on Wednesday with an 18-5 win over the ROC on Friday to complete the preliminary group stage with a 3-1 record, and Maggie Steffens made history in the process. The team captain and three-time Olympian scored four goals during the game, including the 48th and 49th of her career to move to the top of the all-time Olympic scoring list.
Seeking its third straight Olympic gold medal, the U.S. squad will have a bye on Sunday as group play comes to an end then compete in the quarterfinals on Tuesday against a yet-to-be determined opponent.
The U.S. kicked the tournament off against the host country. It was a decisive 25-4 victory for the defending champions, who set an Olympic record for most goals scored, most goals in a half (14 in the first) and largest margin of victory. Steffens and Stephania Haralabidis each scored five goals.
The second game was a bit more challenging.
China gave the U.S. its first deficit of the tournament early on, and the two were tied, 4-4, at the end of the first quarter. It was still tied, 6-6, at the halfway mark. It wasn’t until late in the third quarter that the U.S. was able to open up some breathing room and eventually a 12-7 victory. Makenzie Fischer led the team with three goals and goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson made seven saves.
Perhaps Hungary saw something in what China did to challenge the U.S., because game No. 3 turned into a back-and-forth effort that this time ended with the U.S. on the losing end. Hungary scored first and the score was tied at halftime. The U.S. scored first in the third period and although Hungary quickly tied it, the U.S. seemed to gain steam and led 8-6 heading into the fourth quarter.
It didn’t last. Hungary tied it, then scored the game-winning goal with 46 seconds left to play and the U.S. lost for just the fourth time since 2016 Olympic Games and the first time this year.
Head coach Adam Krikorian said afterward that it was the most physical game they’d played all year.
“I thought we played hard, we played so tough,” he said. “It was similar to the China (CHN) game when we had a really difficult time just putting the ball in the back of the net. We wish we would have finished off the game, but we'll learn from this and move on.”
In the game against ROC, Johnson made 16 saves and Haralabidis added four goals. The U.S. led 5-1 after the first quarter and 9-3 at halftime en route to the decisive victory.
The U.S. has dominated water polo since winning the Olympic gold medal in London in 2012, accruing two Olympic gold medals and three world championship titles in addition to every World Cup and World League tournament title that’s been contested in that time.
Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020? Visit TeamUSA.org/Tokyo2020 to view the medal table, results and competition schedule.