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American women have a feel for Olympic water polo gold

 

This time, U.S. Olympic women's water polo coach Adam Krikorian won't need to do anything outlandish to motivate his team. Tomorrow isn't listed on any schedule.

Team USA is playing Italy for the Olympic gold medal on Friday at the Olympic Aquatic Center, the same pool that hosted brilliant performances from the American men's and women's swimming teams.

Game time is 11:30 a.m. PT, though only the east coast gets to watch it live. The west coast has to wait until 2:30 p.m. for the taped broadcast.

Team USA (19-4-3 all-time at the Olympics) beat Hungary, 14-10, and the Italians dispatched Russia, 12-9, in Wednesday's semifinals.

The American water polo team can put the cherry on top of a glorious aquatic Rio Olympics by becoming the first nation to successfully defend its gold medal.

The U.S. is already the only country to medal in each Olympic Games, dating to the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Only the U.S., Australia and Russia have qualified for all five Olympic Games.

Italy (15-7-1 all-time at the Olympics) is no stranger to championship play. The Italians won the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games, beating the U.S., 6-5, in the semifinal game. They also own two World Championships and

five European Championships.

Tania Di Mario is the inspirational leader of the Italians. She was a member of that 2004 Olympic championship and, at age 37, is playing in her fourth Olympics.

Italy and the U.S. have played once this year, appropriately enough in the championship match of the Olympic qualifying tournament in Gouda, Netherlands. The Americans won that game, 11-6, though Italy led after the first quarter and the contest was tied at halftime.

Krikorian kicked the white buoy on poolside at one point, getting a red card for his effort. He then kicked the red buoy off the pool deck for good measure.

Team USA outscored Italy, 6-1, in the second half.

"I watched the game from the video room and even the guys there making the streaming noted that the team played way better without me," Krikorian noted at the time.

Krikorian, who received his one and only red card since joining the national team following the 2009 college season, will likely keep his composure this time around.

The Americans have outscored their opponents by a 61-26 margin so far in Rio. The 10 goals allowed to Hungary was just the third time all year the U.S. has given up 10 or more goals in a contest.

Team USA has scored in double figures in its past 17 games, and has been held to single digits six times, five times by Australia and once by Spain. The Aussies are the only team to be the U.S. thus far, both by 5-4 scores within a week of each other during the last week of May and on opposite sides of the planet: Irvine, CA and Kunshan, China.

Stanford senior Maggie Steffens leads the U.S. with 16 goals. She scored 21 in earning MVP honors at the London Games.

"We made her captain for a reason. She's an excellent player but even a better leader. She's someone that we can count on to play with intelligence and intensity all the time," Krikorian said. "Maggie will be the first one to tell you though that she can't do it by herself. We have an excellent team and a ton of talented players who are great leaders themselves as well."

High school senior Maddie Musselman has scored 11 times and Cardinal grad Kiley Neushul has seven.

Stanford grad Melissa Seidemann, incoming Stanford freshman Mackenzie Fischer and Menlo Park resident KK Clark are also playing with the Olympic team.

"It takes a lot to win a gold medal," Seidemann said. "Our preparation didn't just start this year, it began four years ago and we've been building our team for that long. We just have to have faith and confidence in what we've put together and trust in our teammates."

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