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June 23, 2004

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Team USA facing yet another tuneup for Games Team USA facing yet another tuneup for Games (June 23, 2004)

Entire field for Summer Olympics will be on hand for the FINA World League Super Finals this week

by Rick Eymer

For the United States Olympic women's water polo team, Sunday's match at Stanford was merely a side trip in the middle of an extensive schedule of games that began with a trip to Russia in late May and continues this week with the FINA World League Super Finals in Long Beach.

In fact, Sunday's exhibition match against Hungary was part of a weekend that saw the American women win the Holiday Cup with a 9-5 victory over Italy on Saturday night in La Jolla.

Team USA was scheduled to return to Los Alamitos on Monday for a rigorous practice in anticipation of the World League finals which begin Wednesday at the Charter All-Digital Aquatic Centre. The United States was scheduled to meet Kazakhstan in the first round. Greece and Russia are also in the Americans' group.

Australia, Hungary, Italy and Canada comprise Group B. The finals continue through Sunday.

"This kind of schedule gets you into that tournament mentality," Stanford grad Brenda Villa said. "It helps simulate the 17 days of the Olympics where you are playing one day, training the next and playing again. Going from the Holiday Cup into the Super Finals gets you thinking that you have to keep playing consistently."

Team USA won its fifth straight Holiday Cup as team captain Heather Moody scored three goals and Villa, Natalie Golda and Ericka Lorenz each scored twice.

Stanford grad Jackie Frank recorded 10 saves in the goal.

Italy scored first but the Americans responded with four consecutive goals to wrench control of the game away from the Italians.

Golda's first goal, from six meters out, gave the U.S. the lead with 2:26 left in the first period.

"Ericka and Natalie shoot the hardest," said Frank, who claimed facing shots is her favorite part of practice. "Every country has one or two shooters like that so it's good to practice against some of the best shooters in the world on your own team."

The U.S. has not lost the Holiday Cup since Australia won back-to-back in 1998-99.

"It's our tournament and it's a tradition here so we definitely want to do well," said USA coach Guy Baker. "This is really good for us because it forces us to maintain a high level of focus and intensity over two weeks like we'll have to do at the Olympics. Tactically we're much more advanced and we're doing more tactful things during the course of a game."

Russia defeated Greece, 6-3, in the third-place game.

The U.S. beat Russia, 6-4, to open Cup play on Thursday as Heather Petri scored twice, with Lorenz, Villa and Kelly Rulon also scoring.

The Americans took a 6-1 lead into the final period and cruised to the win. Frank had 10 saves.

"Defensively we were great the whole game but in the fourth quarter we just made some bad decisions and didn't manage the clock very well," Baker said.

Golda scored with 33 seconds left on Friday to lift the United States to a 5-5 tie against Greece and a play in the championship contest.

Villa scored three goals against the Greeks, while Stanford grad Margie Dingeldein, Lorenz and Robin Beauregard also scored.

"We're in the good part of our schedule right now," Dingeldein said. "Our practice has been improving and we're taking it to another level. We have been training for months and now we're playing more games."

Villa led all scorers in the Cup with six goals, matching Greece's Antigioni Roumpsei. Frank recorded 20 saves in two games, tops among all goalies with Russia's Valentina Vorontsova. USA's Nicolle Payne had four saves in the tie with Greece.

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