July 15, 2008
STANFORD, Calif. -
Behind the stellar play of three current and former Stanford Women's Water Polo standouts, the United States' Olympic Women's Water Polo Team captured the "Blastoff To Beijing" title Thursday night, July 10, with a 7-5 victory over Australia in front of a packed and raucous crowd at Avery Stadium. Brenda Villa `03 posted a hat trick to lead all scorers, while Alison Gregorka `07 tallied a goal and Jessica Steffens `09 stood out on defense with several key field blocks in front of a crowd of 2,926 fans, the largest crowd to ever witness a women's water polo contest on American soil.
The 7-5 win was the third for the top-ranked United States in the four-game set against World No. 2 Australia, clinching the "Blastoff To Beijing" trophy. The United States will now prepare for its departure to Beijing in late July, where it will open up Olympic play against the host nation, China, on August 11.
Villa, fittingly, was the player who got the scoring started in the contest, rifling home a shot with 3:54 remaining in the first quarter to give the U.S. the 1-0 lead, which is how it would remain through the opening eight minutes of play. Steffens would also shine in the period, making key field blocks that helped turn possession over to the United States in the defensive zone and keep the Australians off the board.
But the Australians would not waste any time getting on the board in the second quarter, scoring less than 30 seconds into the frame, but Villa would once again put the United States back in front, answering the Australian score with a lob shot just about 90 seconds later.
A flurry of goals just moments later resulted in Australia's first lead of the contest, as Bronwen Knox capitalized on a U.S. five-meter penalty, rustling the back of the net with her five-meter shot to equalize. Thirty seconds later, another Aussie goal put the U.S. in a one-goal hole, but yet another Stanford alum got in on the scoring party, as Gregorka used a lob shot of her own to equalize. The Americans would tack on another goal with 51 seconds left as Orinda native Heather Petri connected with a long-distance shot, and the U.S. took the 4-3 lead into the break.
In the third, the U.S. was able to double its lead by the end of the quarter, as a pair of goals from Elsie Wyndes sandwiched the lone Australian score by Kate Gynther, giving the Americans a 6-4 lead heading into the final frame.
Nearly half of the fourth quarter would go by before either team got on the board, as the Australians halved the U.S. lead with a goal at the 4:03 mark. Yet the U.S. defense would come up big, stuffing the Aussie attack over the final four minutes, and getting a relief cushion on Villa's empty-net goal from half-tank.