Americans need overtime to beat Australia and reach the final of Olympic women's water polo

U.S. team meets Spain for the gold medal tomorrow

Mountain View resident Adam Krikorian almost made the mistake of the 2012 London Olympics. Thankfully, Stanford freshman Maggie Steffens and USC grad Kami Craig made it a moot point.

Steffens and Craig each scored in overtime to help the United States reach the women's Olympic water polo final with an 11-9 victory over Australia on Tuesday.

The Americans, who assured themselves of remaining the only country to medal in each of the four Olympic Games in which women's water polo was a sport, meet Spain for the gold medal on Thursday.

The U.S. is looking for its first gold medal while Spain reached its first medal game of any kind.

The Americans appeared to have had the match won in regulation after Australia captain Kate Gynther's shot rattled the crossbar in the closing seconds.

Krikorian, the U.S. Olympic coach, tried calling a timeout with one second remaining. His team, however, did not have possession of the ball, which becomes an automatic penalty. Australia's Southern Ash converted the shot to tie it at 9 and force overtime.

Krikorian thought his goalkeeper, Betsy Armstrong, had control of the ball.

"Everything happened so quickly," Krikorian said. "It went through my mind that I might have blown it."

The Aussies won the gold medal in 2000 after scoring in the final three seconds of the gold medal match against the U.S.

"We looked at each other and said 'We've been through this before,'" Steffens said. "Nothing is going to affect us. We're going to be the team that finishes this. We knew that whatever it came down to, we're going to keep fighting."

Steffens, leading the way on the offensive end, made good on her word. She raised her tournament-leading total to 16 goals, putting the U.S. ahead halfway through the first of two three-minute overtime periods, with a skip shot.

"She doesn't play like a newcomer," Krikorian said.

Craig added her goal to finish the scoring and give the Americans another shot at their first gold medal in the women's event.

Stanford senior Melissa Seidemann scored twice and Cardinal grad Jessica Steffens added a goal.

"I was feeling horrible," Krikorian said. "After it happened, it took me a couple of minutes to take a deep breath and realize what I had done and get out of the funk."

But the team's response to his mistake, he said, was evidence of just how much the squad has developed since he took over in 2009.

"When you mess up, you've got to own up to it," Krikorian said. "They came over and I said, 'My bad.' This is not going to stop us. We've made mistakes before and we've overcome a lot of adversity over the last three and a half years so one stupid call by the coach isn't going to affect the team's performance."

For Australia, the loss was doubly painful, coming four years after it lost, 9-8, to the U.S. in the semifinal of the Beijing Olympics.

Spain beat Hungary, 10-9, in the other semifinal and reached the final in the country's first ever appearance in women's Olympic water polo.

The U.S. and Spain tied 9-9 in the preliminary stage after the Americans let a three-goal lead slip away late in the fourth quarter.

Maggie Steffens sent this tweet out afterward:

"One more game. excited for the last battle vs Spain... Gold on the line #DreamBig #TeamUSA #13sisters"

--Palo Alto Online Sports/AP


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