Women's Water Polo Preview

The U.S. women’s team will travel to Tokyo as two-time defending Olympic champions and the favorite to win the gold medal once again. Currently ranked No. 1 in the world, Team USA has held the top world ranking since winning the 2014 Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA) World Cup. The U.S. women’s team is also the reigning champions of the FINA World Championships, FINA World Cup, FINA World League and Pan American Games.

Team USA won its first gold medal at the Olympic Games London 2012, and has since become a juggernaut in the world of water polo, most recently compiling a 37-0 record in 2019. As part of the run, Team USA compiled a 69-game win streak that was snapped January 2020 in Australia, the first loss for Team USA since April 2018. The streak is a record for women’s water polo in the modern era. With great success comes great pressure, however, and Team USA is the team to beat ahead of the Tokyo Games.

Led by veteran head coach Adam Krikorian, the U.S. women’s team returns nine gold medalists from the Rio Games, two of whom having also won a gold medal at the London Games. Captain Maggie Steffens won MVP honors at both the London and Rio Games, and she is joined by a cast of top-flight talent. Goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson, considered the best keeper in the world, anchors a defense bolstered by two-time Olympic champion and two-way threat Melissa Seidemann.

The rest of the team features Olympic and world champions who have played for professional teams in Hungary, Spain, Greece and Australia. Team USA is still driven to prove itself and will strive to do so at the Tokyo Games.

Updated on July 20, 2020. For more information, contact the sport press officer here.

 

Rule Changes: A variety of changes are at play in the Tokyo Games. Roster sizes have been trimmed down from 13 to 12, with an additional athlete expected to be allowed to substitute in prior to each match. Also, several new rules will make their Olympic debuts, including the six-meter line, increased penalty shot opportunities and “hockey” substitutions.

USA Dynasty: Among the many women’s national teams that excel internationally, the U.S. Women’s National Water Polo Team may be the most overlooked. The two-time defending Olympic champions have shifted into another gear over the last five years, winning three world championships titles, three world cup crowns, one Olympic gold medal, two Pan American Games gold medal and six world league titles.

Ashleigh Johnson: In 2016, Johnson was the first African-American woman to earn a spot on a U.S. Olympic Women’s Water Polo Team, and she was a star in goal on the way to a gold medal in Rio. After taking a year off in 2017 to finish school at Princeton University, Johnson returned with a renewed focus both in and out of the water. She’s embraced her platform as an athlete to promote water polo and aquatics to all, and she is working with her sister Chelsea to create clinics and swim events in her hometown of Miami.

Kaleigh Gilchrist: In the hours after winning the 2019 FINA World Championship, Gilchrist was seriously injured in a night club collapse in Gwangju, South Korea. With several deep lacerations to her left leg that required more than 100 stitches, Gilchrist was millimeters away from a potential career-ending injury. While her teammates won gold in Lima, Gilchrist had surgery in South Korea and returned home to begin an arduous rehab. She’s dubbed the rehab the “Mamba Mission” in honor of her favorite basketball player, Kobe Bryant. Bryant and Gilchrist had met a few times in Southern California. They had traded messages following the injury. Bryant’s passing has been a devastating loss for Gilchrist but also has left no doubt in her quest to get back to full strength. She played her first games back with Team USA last December in Canada.

 

Maggie Steffens (Danville, California)
Steffens has been a dominant force at the last two Olympic Games, and at 27 years old, she is in the prime of her career with no signs of slowing down. Several of Steffens’ best offensive performances have occurred at the Olympic Games, and she could be poised for another breakout performance at the Tokyo Games.

Rachel Fattal (Seal Beach, California)
A Team USA veteran, Fattal has earned a gold medal at the 2015 Pan American Games. She was named the most valuable player of the 2015 world championships and is a supremely talented offensive player. Fattal trained with the national team in 2012 as a high school student and has been a member of the team since 2013.

Maddie Musselman (Newport Beach, California)
The 2016 Olympic gold medalist missed the summer of 2018 recovering from shoulder surgery, but has left a major impact since returning to Team USA. Musselman earned MVP honors at the 2019 FINA World League Super Final, where Team USA clinched an Olympic berth for the Tokyo Games. A standout at UCLA, she is one of the younger members of Team USA.

The U.S. women’s team won the 2019 FINA World League Super Final, qualifying for the Tokyo Games. Other countries can still qualify for the Tokyo Games with a top-three finish at the 2020 Olympic Qualification Tournament. The cancellation of the Asian qualifier has left some uncertainty as to how that spot will be decided.

The U.S. women’s team will be selected through evaluation by the coaching staff and high-performance staff of USA Water Polo.

• April 26-May 2, 2021: 2021 FINA Intercontinental Tournament (Indianapolis, Indiana)

• TBD 2020: 2021 FINA World League Super Final (Location TBD)

• July 23 – August 4, 2021: Olympic Games (Tokyo, Japan)