It all came down to a high school senior. One penalty shot, $50,000 in the balance, in a shootout against the second-ranked women's water polo team in the world.
U.S. goalkeeper Betsey Armstrong blocked a shot, giving Maggie Steffens, the youngest player in the water, in her first international competition, the chance to show why American coach Adam Krikorian picked her as one of the top 15 players in the country.
Steffens, whose older sister Jessica just completed a distinguished career with Stanford and who played on the Olympic team in Beijing, got the final shot past Australian goalie Victoria Brown for the 12-11 victory in the championship match of the FINA World League Super Final.
"(Maggie) has no fear," Krikorian said. "She's a great competitor; she's just going to leave it all out there and I felt very confident with her out there and putting her last, and she'll remember this for a very long time."
Stanford grad Brenda Villa was named the tournament's MVP and Armstrong was picked as top goalie. Olympian Kami Craig was named top center.
Cardinal grad Lauren (Lolo) Silver led the Americans with three goals while Stanford junior Melissa Seidemann also scored.
"All of our shooters were clutch," Krikorian said. "To make all five, I didn't think that would happen. Especially after watching the third place game, where there were a lot of missed penalty shots, and we looked so tired by the end of that game, I was surprised that we made all five."
In a game that played out similarly to their pool-play contest, Tanya Gandy scored in the final two minutes to tie the score at 7 and send it to the shootout round. Australia had taken the lead moments before Gandy's clutch effort.
"I'm very happy with the group. I think they've come a long way," Krikorian said. "But, at the same time, we have a long way to go. Our fitness level isn't where it needs to be; we've only been training for four weeks, and I look forward to the next three or four weeks of training here at home before we head off to Australia and New Zealand. I think we'll get even better over that time."
Jessica Steffens required shoulder surgery following Stanford's season, putting her on the sidelines for the national team's season and opening a spot for her younger sister, who took advantage of the opportunity.
The U.S. will compete at the FINA World Cup in Christchurch, New Zealand beginning August 17. The Americans open with Russia.
The U.S. national team needed every ounce of energy to beat host Egypt, 20-25, 25-18, 19-25, 25-22, 18-16, in a FIVB World League Intercontinental Round pool play match Saturday in Cairo.
Thanks to Finland's 25-18, 18-25, 25-23, 25-19 victory over Russia on Saturday, the U.S. return to the United States with a chance to win the pool when it hosts Russia for two matches in Wichita, Kan., on July 9 and 10.
Stanford grad Kevin Hansen, the U.S. setter, scored four points on one kill and three blocks. He was credited with 17 running sets and no faults in 59 attempts as Team USA improved its record to 7-3 and remains in second place in Pool C. Russia is in first place with a 9-1 record.
Men's water polo
The U.S. travels to the FINA World League Super Final in Nis, Serbia beginning July 13, with Spain as its first opponent.
The winner of the men's Super Final receives a $100,000 prize.
Elsewhere, former Stanford men's coach Dante Dettamanti has published a piece on training at water polo planet.
Stanford grad Tobias Oriwol placed second in the men's 100 back with a time of 56.46 at the Canada Cup in Montreal on Friday. He added a fifth-place finish in the 200 IM in 2:04.54.
Stanford sophomore Matt Swanston finished 12th overall in the 50 fly in 25.66.