The U.S. Women's Senior National Team turned a bad situation into a golden opportunity Sunday, recovering from a first-period deficit to beat Italy, 10-8, and capture the water polo championship of the FINA World League Super Final in Kunshan, China.
Stanford junior Maggie Steffens scored three goals and the Americans overcame a 4-1 deficit to earn their eighth world championship and the fifth in six years.
"There are 10 or 11 teams who can be the best in any tournament," U.S. coach Adam Krikorian said. "It's never been easy, each one of our opponents, no matter of the score, is a great challenge for us."
(The championship match was streamed live on FINA TV. A replay of the game is available: here).
The Italians opened a three-goal advantage midway through the second period. The U.S. responded with seven unanswered goals to take control of the contest.
"In the first quarter we played as bad as we've played," Krikorian said. "In fact, Italy is a strange team, a unique team for us. For a lot of our younger players it meant a new experience. But we got better as the game went on."
The Americans came up empty on their first four man-up advantages and finished 3-for-9 in those situations. Italy missed a penalty shot and lost one of its top players, Valeria Palmieri, for elbowing.
The U.S. played without veteran Kami Craig for most of the match. She left early with a laceration on her hand.
"Our youth showed in the beginning but we settled down and played much better," Krikorian said. "Losing Kami early in the game was unfortunate but I was very pleased to see how we handled the adversity."
Stanford grad Annika Dries, a two-time collegiate Player of the Year, and Rachel Fattal each added two goals for the Americans, who took an 8-4 lead into the final quarter and then held on for the victory.
"We came out a little slow but we turned that around with the intensity of our defense," Dries said. "We came back together as a team, put away shots when we needed to and played smart in the second half. We've changed our defensive mentality."
Cardinal grad Melissa Seidemann and Stanford senior Kiley Neushul also scored for the U.S., which lost to Spain in last year's championship following its gold medal effort in the 2012 London Olympics.
Team USA, which finished the tournament undefeated, picked up their eighth Super Final gold medal in 11 opportunities. The Americans needed a shootout to beat Russia and went on to beat Canada, Spain, Brazil, Australia, and Italy with no match closer than two goals.
"We can talk about the goals, but first of all we improved defensively. We needed that after we missed all 6-on-5s in the first period but we came out more aggressive, more focused, that was the key," Krikorian said. "We were very consistent over the six games, and the group has grown tremendously in the short amount of time we've been together."