BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) - They’ve done it again.
The U.S. women claimed a record-extending fifth world championship in water polo with a 13-6 victory over Spain on Friday.
Kiley Neushul scored four goals to help the two-time Olympic champions win back-to-back titles at the worlds.
“It probably seemed easier than it was. That Spanish team is tough. Miki (Oca Gaia) does an incredible job with them and we knew that they would fight,” U.S. coach Adam Krikorian said of his counterpart.
“We win it with our preparation. We win it with our training, the connection and passion that we have for each other. You don’t win gold medals in championships during those 32 minutes,” said Krikorian, who was pushed into the pool by his jubilant players as the celebrations got underway.
Captain Margaret Steffens spoke of the “American pride of always trying to be our best” as she paid tribute to the spirit of her teammates.
“For us the spirit is trying to be the best team we can be and connect, because that’s what makes it fun. The more fun we can have, the more heart you can see in our play, the will, the fight. We love making history, we love being first,” Steffens said.
The pre-tournament favorites had beaten Russia 14-9 in the semifinal. The Russians finished with the bronze medal.
Spain fought to stay even at 3-3 before quick-fire goals from Neushul and Madeline Musselman gave the U.S. breathing room at halftime.
Steffens added a couple of goals in what turned out to be a comfortable win on the back of strong defense.
U.S. goalkeeper Gabrielle Stone saved seven of 12 shots. Amanda Longan yielded Spain’s other goal.
Musselman had a hat trick, giving her 16 goals for the tournament. Anna Espar Llaquet reached a hat trick for Spain with the game’s final score.
The U.S. had been the first women’s water polo nation to win four worlds, after victories in 2003, 2007, 2009 and 2015.
But this group is hard to satisfy and some are looking ahead already.
“I’m very excited for the future of this team, whether the girls stay or leave and new ones come in and more people come back,” Musselman said. “It’s a good start off to a new quad, and a new lead up to the Olympics, which is really exciting.”
Both sides were backed by enthusiastic supporters on Budapest’s Margaret Island in the middle of the Danube. Most of the crowd seemed to be from Hungary, whose men’s team plays in the final against Croatia on Saturday night.
Zach Beck and Rebecca Beck from Seattle were traveling through Europe but extended their stay to cheer on the American women.
“We’ve been to the swimming, we’ve been to the diving,” Zach Beck said. “But, I got to say, women’s water polo was the best.”
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