The "Rumble to Rio" turned into an Olympic celebration


The evening took on a festive spirit even before the gates opened officially. A Brazilian band, accompanied by a group of dancers, made sure of that.

The United States women's Olympic water polo team made it all the more special, beating Russia, 16-7, in the "Rumble to Rio," at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center on Wednesday night before a packed house.

The game was the final exhibition before both teams headed off for the 2016 Rio Olympics. The Americans made it worthwhile.

Stanford has made it a tradition to host the final women's game on American soil, beginning with the first U.S. Olympic women's water polo team in 2000. That was known as the “Send-Off to Sydney," and all 13 members of that team, along with the coaches, were on hand to share in the celebration.

Four-time Olympian Brenda Villa joined fellow Cardinal grad Ellen Estes and the rest of the original 13 on the awards podium. Appropriately enough, local coach, teacher and historian Kyle Utsumi handed out special medallions to the team.

Utsumi immortalized the team in his newly published book, "Sydney's Silver Lining," a copy of which seemed to be in the hands of hundreds in the stands. Fans of all ages sought out the team seeking autographs and team members happily obliged.

Stanford senior Maggie Steffens and Rachel Fattal each scored three goals to pace the Americans. Cardinal grad Kiley Neushul, Maddie Musselman, Courtney Mathewson and Aria Fischer each added a pair. Kaleigh Gilchrist and Kami Craig also scored.

The contest was never in doubt after Steffens scored early and Gilchrist converted a penalty shot to make it 2-0.

The evening was far from over following the final horn. It was as though everybody realized the specialness of the moment and no one wanted to leave right away. This send-off was another success.

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