The women’s senior national team is almost a year removed from its record Olympic run in Rio de Janeiro, but the offensive firepower and defensive grit that made a handful of Bruins gold medalists was on full display once again in Budapest, Hungary.
Coached by UCLA’s hall-of-fame men’s and women’s water polo coach, Adam Krikorian, the United States women’s water polo team won its second straight FINA World Championship on Friday morning by defeating Spain 13-6. Ten of those goals came on 12 man-up opportunities – a conversion percentage Krikorian said after the game he’s never seen his team put up before.
“I don’t think that’s ever happened, certainly in a big game like this one, a gold medal game at world championships,” Krikorian told USA Water Polo’s Greg Mescall after the game. “Scoring 10 goals on 6 on 5, a lot of them seem to be quick, that just showed you the confidence that the team had and the aggressiveness.”
The seven-goal victory was the final of a six-win campaign that saw the team score nearly two and a half goals for each it gave up. At the forefront of the action was UCLA rising sophomore Maddie Musselman, who was named the tournament MVP after the conclusion of the championship game, and accounted for 16 of Team USA’s 92 goals over the course of the tournament.
The bulk of those goals came in the team’s three pool play games, where it beat South Africa and New Zealand 24-2 and 22-7, respectively, and Spain 12-8.
The team’s closest game of the tournament happened to be its quarterfinal game against UCLA rising sophomore Bronte Halligan and Australia. Musselman scored twice and 2017 UCLA graduate Rachel Fattal added one goal in the fourth quarter to help USA hold on to a 7-5 win, after which Krikorian said the team refocused its efforts on being aggressive from the get-go.
The very next game, in the semifinals against Russia, both Fattal and Musselman had four goals by halftime, and Fattal finished with five. Thanks to a fourth-quarter score from 2017 graduate Alys Williams, the Bruin trio accounted for 10 of the 14 total goals that secured the United States yet another championship berth.
Now with five titles, the Americans have won more FINA World Championships than any other women’s water polo program, and with the past two Olympic gold medals in tow as well, Krikorian has turned the program into a world-recognized dynasty.
“We take every summer and every tournament for what it is, and really every team is different and I think that’s the reason why we’ve had success,” Krikorian said. “That’s not going to change, we’re not going to change, we’re going to look forward to the next tournament and make it the best we possibly can and then the rest kind of takes care of itself.”