Madeline Musselman competes during the women's preliminary round match against Team China at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 on July 26, 2021 in Tokyo.
The U.S. women’s water polo team came into the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, with sky-high expectations.
The Americans are the three-time defending world champs, and they’re coming off an Olympic title from the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, which was also their third consecutive gold.
Those high expectations have yet to derail this seemingly unstoppable force, as the U.S. remains the only team in the tournament with a perfect record heading into Thursday’s semifinal matchup against Italy.
The Americans had little trouble winning Group B, outscoring their opponents 58-12 in the three group games. In between blowouts of South Africa and Argentina, the U.S. battled with the Netherlands in an 11-7 win. There’s a chance the Americans could end up in a rematch with the second-place team out of Group B, as the Netherlands takes on host nation Hungary in the other semifinal.
As one of the four group winners, the U.S. advanced directly into the quarterfinals. That’s where it met Spain, which is much earlier than these two teams are used to seeing each other in major tournaments. The U.S. has faced Spain in the final of the past two world championships as well as in the gold-medal game in Tokyo last summer.
Just like those past three meetings, the Americans came out on top, winning 13-8. The U.S. held a narrow 6-5 lead at halftime but outscored Spain 7-3 in the second half. Stephania Haralabidis scored six goals while fellow Olympian Maddie Musselman added five to help secure a spot in the semifinals.
Haralabidis and Musselman have been two of the highest scorers in the tournament thus far, as Haralabidis’ 16 goals are the fourth-most and Musselman’s 14 are tied for fifth. While other players have scored more, not many players have been more efficient than the lethal duo. Musselman has scored on 78 percent of her shot attempts (14/18), which is tied for the best conversion rate in the tournament with Bronte Halligan of Australia. Haralabidis is right behind them with a 76 percent conversion rate (16/21).
Ashleigh Johnson and Amanda Longan have split time in net for Team USA, as each player has started two games. Both have had save percentages over 70, with two-time Olympian Johnson making 17 saves compared to Longan’s 14. Johnson started the group game against the Netherlands the quarterfinal matchup versus Spain and is projected to be in net against Italy.
The U.S. now will shift its focus to Italy — the only other undefeated team left in the tournament — in the semifinal. The Italians won Group A with a 2-0-1 record and defeated France 17-7 in the quarterfinals.
The Americans own an 11-2 record over Italy, which was also the final score of the last time the two teams met, which came in the Holiday Cup in December 2019. They also met earlier that year in Budapest in the FINA World League Super Final, which saw the Americans win 10-9, securing their spot in Tokyo.
U.S. Men’s Team Improves On 2019 Finish
The U.S. men’s water polo team fell to Greece 16-11 in the quarterfinals on Wednesday, though there’s still opportunity to end the tournament on a high note.
The U.S. has never reached the podium at the world championships. However, after finishing ninth in 2019 and sixth in Tokyo, this year’s team still has an opportunity to finish as high as fifth if it wins both of its classification playoff games. The U.S. meets Hungary in the first one on Friday.
The U.S. had a tough draw right away, playing defending Olympic champions Serbia to start group play. The Americans lost 17-13, but they beat Kazakhstan and Australia to clinch a spot in the round of 16. They demolished South Africa 24-2 in that round to set up the showdown with Greece.
Alexander Bowen currently leads all players with 15 goals in the tournament. Chase William Dodd and Maxwell Irving are each in the top 20 in goals, scoring 11 and 10 apiece.