Stanford grad Brenda Villa has accomplished a lot of things in her water polo career, though winning an Olympic gold medal is not one of them. The United States national women's team captain has her team headed in the right direction though.
Villa celebrated her sixth World League gold medal -- third in a row -- and added to her medal collection that has three Olympic medals, three FINA World Championship gold medals and a World Cup gold medal as the Americans downed Italy, 9-7, in the championship match of the FINA World League Super Final on Sunday in Tianjin, China.
Villa was named to the all-Media team with goalkeeper Betsy Armstrong after scoring twice in the final contest. Stanford freshman Maggie Steffens also scored twice and Cardinal junior Annika Dries added a goal.
"It may not have been the most beautiful game, but in the end we showed great heart and character to come from behind and find a way to get it done," U.S. coach Adam Krikorian said. "Overall, I am pleased with how we performed defensively in this game and all week but we all know that there is still much to improve on heading into World Championships."
Team USA now looks ahead to the FINA World Championships that begin July 16 in Shanghai.
"It's great preparation for everyone," Krikorian said of the experience. "All teams will now go back home and analyze the things they did well and not so well. They will make adjustments and bring their 'A' game to Shanghai."
The Americans have won all of the major events for the past two years -- the 2009 World Championship, 2010 World Cup and three successive World Leagues. It's a good sign for things to come leading to next year's London Olympic Games.
"To come from behind and pull out a win shows a lot of character," Krikorian said. "We escaped with a win. We missed a lot of six-on-five chances. They had a lot of momentum going into the game."
Italy built a 4-3 advantage by halftime. The Italians, who did not win a single match in group play and yet advanced to the final, took a 5-3 lead early in the third period.
Dries and Courtney Mathewson scored consecutive goals to tie the game and Kelly Rulon added the go-ahead goal with four seconds to play in the third.
Italy tied the match at 7-7 with 4:47 remaining to play in the match. Villa put the Americans ahead to stay 50 seconds later. Steffens added an insurance goal with 2:16 left.
Team USA went 5-of-12 on power plays while Italy was 3-of-12. Australia grabbed the bronze medal with a 7-5 win over China, Russia earned fifth place with a 14-9 win over Canada and Greece topped Spain 14-8 for seventh place.
As for what the Super Final win means heading into the FINA World Championships, Krikorian wiped the slate clean.
"I have a short memory," he said. "You are only as good as your next game."