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RIO DE JANEIRO — The pool at the Olympic Aquatics Stadium has seen its share of American gold this month, thanks to the likes of Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky.
The U.S. women’s water polo team added one more to that total Friday, in dominating fashion.
The Americans captured their second-straight gold medal in the event with a 12-5 victory over Italy.
Kiley Neushul had a hat trick, and goalie Ashleigh Johnson had nine saves.
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This completed an incredible three-year journey to Rio that saw them win every major tournament they entered. Their run in Rio was equally impressive, with an average margin of victory of nearly seven goals per game before the gold medal match against Italy.
“We could be playing dominoes back at the apartment and they would all want to beat me and beat each other,” said coach Adam Krikorian after their semifinal win against Hungary. “This group hates to lose and that makes my job much easier.”
That Krikorian was there to coach the team was notable in itself. Krikorian’s brother Blake was found dead next to his car at Linda Mar Beach in California on Aug. 3. According to the San Mateo County Coroner, he had gone paddle-boarding and died of a heart attack. He was 48.
The coach left Rio just a few days after arriving to be with his family. He returned in time for their first match in pool play, explaining to his team in a meeting that “just because tragedy hits my family, it doesn’t mean it has to ruin their experience.”
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Krikorian’s team dominated Italy from the start, building a 6-3 advantage by the first minute of the third period. Courtney Mathewson (6:49, 1st), Kiley Neushul (4:33, 1st; 4:47 3rd; 0:49, 3rd), Kami Craig (0:58, 1st), Makenzie Fisher (0:09, 1st; 7:34, 4th ), Rachel Fattal (5:05, 2nd; 7:11 3rd), Maggie Steffens (0:15, 4th), Melissa Seidermann (2:42, 3rd) and Madeline Musselmann (5:20, 4th, penalty shot) provided the offense.
The backbone of the defense was goalie Johnson, who bounced back from an effort against Hungary she said wasn’t up to her standards with an outstanding game. Johnson, notable for being the first African-American to play Olympic water polo for the U.S., made nine saves on 13 shots, including a key penalty shot stop in the third period.
The gold means that the Americans now have medals in five-straight Olympics, since the 2000 Sydney Games. In other words, if there’s been an Olympics women’s water polo tournament, the Americans have medaled in it.
Listen to Yahoo Sports’ Greg Wyshynski podcast from Rio on GRANDSTANDING, featuring a Ryan Lochte Controversy Edition with Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports and Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star!
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