The outcomes weren’t as surprising as the subplots on Day 5 of the women’s FINA Women’s Intercontinental Tournament in Lewisville, Texas.
On the final day of round robin, the US beat Australia, 8-5 (but nobody expected Australia to trail 6-0 at halftime, especially since Australia beat the US three times in November – a year in which the US had only lost six times.)
Earlier in the night, Canada beat Brazil, 14-7, but the teams alternated goals for nearly the entire game until Canada went on a 5-goal scoring spree in the fourth quarter.
Also, China beat Japan, 10-5, but Japan was so competitive in the first half that the teams were tied, 3-3, at the break.
So now the playoff pairings are set.
On Sunday, the US (5-0), and Australia (4-1) will play for gold. Canada (3-2) and China (2-3) will vie for bronze. And Brazil (1-4) and Japan (0-5) will try to outscore each other for fifth place.
The top-four nations (and China) will qualify for the FINA World League Super Final in Shanghai, China, June 7-12, to face the three European qualifiers.
GAME 1: 16:40 CHINA 10 JAPAN 5
Quarters: 3-2, 0-1, 4-2, 3-0
Extra Man: CHN 1/6. JPN 0/5.
CHINA: Yang Jun, Lu Yiwen, Mei Xiaohan, Xiong Dunhan (1), Niu Guannan (2), Sun Yating (3), Song Donglun (1), Zhang Cong (1), Zhao Zihan (1), Zhang Wei Wei, Wang Xinyan (1), Zhang Jing, Peng Lin. Head Coach: Ricardo Azevedo.
JAPAN: Rikako Miura, Chiaki Sakanoue, Akari Inaba (1), Shino Magariyama, Yuri Kazama, Ayaka Takahashi, Yumi Nakano (2), Mitsuki Hashiguchi (1), Kana Hosoya (1), Mori Tsubasai, Marina Tokumoko, Kotori Suzuki, Miyuu Aoki. Head Coach: Hideo Kato.
China was favored to beat Japan, just as it had at the Asian Olympic qualifier in December. And it did, 10-5. But Japan held its own in the first half.
China’s Niu Guannan scored first, but the teams traded the next 4 goals, giving China a narrow 3-2 lead at the end of the first quarter. In the second quarter, Japan’s Yumi Nakano scored the lone goal to even the game, 3-3.
In the third quarter, Japan pulled ahead for the first time, thanks to Nakano’s second goal to make it 4-3, with 5:05 remaining. But China scored the next four points (first on Wang Xinyan’s lofty lob into the net on a power play, back-to-back goals from captain Sun Yating, and a second goal of the night for Niu) to recapture and widen the lead, 7-4. Japan’s Mitsuki Hashiguchi made it 7-5 before the buzzer.
One minute and 35 seconds into the fourth quarter, Sun made a flashy behind-the-back goal for a hat trick. Zhao Zihan added another China goal with 4:10 to go. Japan replaced its starting goalie (Rikako Miura) with 2:35 left in the game – just long enough for the backup, Miyuu Aoki, to make three noble saves but China’s 16-year-old center Xiong Dunhan landed a sneaky and perfectly-timed shot in the final 30 seconds to punctuate China’s 10-5 triumph.
Also worth noting: China’s goalkeeper, two-time Olympian Yang Jun made 16 saves on Saturday, a high for the night - and the third-most per game of the tournament.
China Head Coach Ricardo Azevedo:
“It’s always close when China plays Japan. Most of these girls have known each other for a long time. We played them a month and a half ago for Olympic qualification – best of three. But they get too excited, both teams. Then they make mistakes. The game today was a million mistakes. We make it a hard game when it shouldn’t be. We had so many opportunities. In the first period alone, we had like five 2-meter situations and our players were just sitting there instead of taking the ball and scoring goals. But those things happen when you have rival countries like this – not only in sports, but politically and socially. It does make a huge difference – no matter how good one is, or the other is.”
Japan Head Coach Hideo Kato (through an interpreter):
“Our shooting was not so good. We need to practice shoot skills. In the first half, we didn’t particularly care about their No. 6 [Sun Yating]. Our tactics are we press on both sides. We don’t care center too much.”
GAME 2: 18:00, BRAZIL 7 CANADA 14
Quarters: 1-3, 3-4, 2-2, 1-5
Extra Man: BRA 3/7. CAN 4/9.
BRAZIL: Tess Oliveira, Diana Abla (1), Marina Zablith (1), Marina Canetti, Camila Pedrosa, Isabella Chiappini (2), Amanda Oliveira, Luiza Carvalho (1), Melani Dias, Viviane Bahia (1), Marina Duarte (1), Gabriela Mantellato, Victoria Chamorro. Coach Justin Oliviera.
CANADA: Jessica Gaudreault, Krystina Alogbo (1), Katrina Monton (2), Emma Wright (1), Monika Eggens (3), Kelly McKee (2), Joelle Bekhazi (1), Shae Fournier, Carmen Eggens, Christine Robinson (2), Axelle Crevier, Dominique Perreault (2), Nicola Colterjohn. Head Coach: David Paradelo.
Canada played without its head coach, David Paradelo, on Day 5 because he received a red card in the final minute of Friday’s 14-4 loss to the US, but that didn’t stop Canada from taking early 2-0 lead against Brazil – on a pair of goals from a pair of 31-year-olds. The 2004 Olympian Christine Robinson scored first, just 47 seconds into the game, and Dominique Perreault scored three minutes later. Marina Duarte finally put Brazil on the board with 40 seconds remaining in the first quarter. A blast by Perreault, however, extended Canada’s lead, 3-1, at the break.
Early in the second quarter, Monika Eggens added a point for Canada, and the next six goals went tit for tat: Brazil powerplay (Viviane Bahia), Canada powerplay (Joelle Bekhazi), Brazil power play (captain Marina Zablith), Canada powerplay (Emma Wright), Brazil (Luiza Carvalho), Canada (Robinson again) and at halftime, Canada led, 7-4.
In the third quarter, each team added two goals in alternating fashion yet again – a string initiated on a power play by Canadian center Katrina Monton. Canada led 9-6 going into the fourth quarter.
In the last eight minutes of the game, it was (almost) all Canada. Diana Abla earned Brazil’s lone goal on a high pass from Isabella Chiappini, but Canada won the day, 14-7.
Brazil Head Coach Pat Oaten:
“The result of the game didn’t matter. Because it’s an early-morning game tomorrow, it was more about just getting people in the water and getting them out of the water.”
On the fact that if Brazil had beaten Canada, they’d both have a 3-2 record: “You have to win by a certain amount as well. We made the decision after the second quarter.”
Canada Co-Coach Justin Oliveira:
On playing without Head Coach David Paradelo: “I think it always makes a difference when you’re down one staff member on the bench. There is a lot of communication that goes on – whether it’s the head coach coaching the game, or other information that goes down to some of the athletes on the bench. For sure, that was a lack. But other than that, the girls played brilliant.
On why Canada dominated the fourth quarter: “I think at some point the girls just decided to finish the game strong. We would have liked a little better third quarter. The last quarter, the girls just went for it, all out. The girls kept pushing the counter-attack and it paid off towards the end with our shooting.”
GAME 3: 19:20, AUSTRALIA 5 UNITED STATES 8
Quarters: 0-3, 0-3, 3-1, 2-1
Extra Man: AUS 2/8. USA 2/6.
AUSTRALIA: Lea Yanitsas, Gemma Beadsworth, Hannah Buckling, Holly Lincoln-Smith, Keesja Gofers, Bronte Halligan, Rowena Webster (2), Glencora McGhie, Zoe Arancini, Ashleigh Southern, Isobel Bishop (1), Nicola Zagame (2), Kelsey Wakefield. Head Coach: Greg McFadden.
UNITED STATES: Sami Hill, Maddie Musselman (1), Melissa Seidemann (1), Rachel Fattal (1), KK Clark, Maggie Steffens (1), Courtney Mathewson (1), Kiley Neushul, Aria Fischer, Kaleigh Gilchrist (1), Makenzie Fischer (1), Kami Craig (1), Ashleigh Johnson. Head Coach: Adam Krikorian.
As the US battled the only other undefeated team in the tournament, its defense was in full force. But so, too, was its offense.
Five US players scored on Australia in the first 11 minutes, 17 seconds of the game before Australia replaced its starting goalie Lea Yanitsas with Kelsey Wakefield. A sixth player, Makenzie Fischer, gave the US a 6-0 lead at halftime.
Then, 29 seconds into the third quarter, drama ensued when Australia’s Hannah Buckling earned a red card for misconduct and was benched after jousting with US center Kami Craig, grabbing her cap strings and egregiously trying to sink her. Finally, with 4:30 left in the quarter, Nicola Zagame earned Australia’s first goal on a powerplay to trail 6-1. Just then, Australia came alive and scored three more times while allowing just one US goal. Yet the US led, 7-3, with eight minutes to play.
As the fourth quarter began, “U-S-A” chants shook the Lewisville ISD Westside Aquatic Center. Aussie captain Rowena Webster silenced them on a power play goal with 6:42 to go. Maddie Musselman netted a cross-cage winner for the US on a power play to make it 8-4. But Webster had the last word with her second goal of the night. Final: 8-5 for the US.
Australia Head Coach Greg McFadden:
On trailing 6-0 at halftime: “We weren’t mentally in the game. We weren’t physically in the game. It was very disappointing. You can’t start against the best team in the world and give them six goals at the start.”
On whether Australia might have been saving energy for the gold-medal game: “No, we don’t save up for anything. We try to win everything.
On the stronger second half: “The girls had some pride to play for. Being behind six goals, we should be very ashamed of ourselves. The second half we came out and showed some Australian spirit.
United States Defender Makenzie Fischer:
On whether the team expected to lead 6-0 at halftime: “No, definitely not. We always expect a good game from them; it’s always close and hard fought. I think we just came out just really focused on our defense. We were able to stop them and get out on counters. We kind of fell away from that in the second half. [In tomorrow’s rematch for gold] I think we should definitely start the same way, focus on our defense, make that our emphasis, and maintain that focus throughout the whole game.”