RIVERSIDE — Another summer, another Pan American gold medal for Newport Beach residents Carlee Kapana and Brianna Daboub.
This one was challenging in the final match. But a strong finish helped Kapana, Daboub and the United States Women's Water Polo Youth National Team top Brazil, 11-6, for the gold medal at the UANA Junior Pan American Championships on Tuesday at Riverside City College.
Kapana, an incoming senior at Newport Harbor High, and Daboub, a Mater Dei High graduate bound for USC, were each key pieces. Kapana made eight saves in the final and was later named the tournament's most valuable women's goalie. Daboub also got ample playing time in the final, helping out on defense and scoring a goal in transition in the second quarter.
Team USA Coach Ethan Damato is well aware of the duo's talents. Last summer, they also helped the U.S. win gold at the UANA Youth Pan American Championships in Argentina.
Damato also coaches at Laguna Beach High. His Breakers had to face Newport Harbor four times last year, including in the CIF Southern Section Division 1 title match won by Laguna Beach. And he had high praise for Kapana after Tuesday's win as well.
"Carlee's a great goalie," Damato said. "I think she's the best in the country. She had a great tournament. I think that's the most goals we've given up throughout this tournament, but six goals is still very good … I thought our defense played great and I thought our goalies played great, and Carlee is the anchor of our defense for sure."
The American squad needed the defense in the final, which was nothing like the 19-4 victory it earned when it faced Brazil earlier in the tournament on Friday. In that game, Brazil's top player and team captain, Izabella Chiappini, fouled out in the second quarter.
"They lost confidence after that, and we just pulled away," Kapana said. "This game, they were way more fired up to play us."
Brazil proved that it could keep up its momentum after upsetting Canada in a semifinal match Monday. Chiappini, who plays at Arizona State, led her team with two goals in Tuesday's match.
But Team USA had the tournament MVP, Aria Fischer of Laguna Beach, who had three goals and three steals in Tuesday's match. The three goals tied her with U.S. teammate Jordan Raney (Mira Costa High/Stanford) for match-high honors.
The United States scored five straight goals in the second quarter and took an 8-4 halftime lead. But Brazil came back in the third quarter on power-play goals from Diana Abla and Adhara Santoro.
Brazil finished the match five for eight on the power play, while the U.S. was three for eight with the extra player.
"I thought [Chiappini] played really well today, drew a bunch of ejections," Damato said. "[Brazil] played really hard, and we weren't as sharp as we could have been, but obviously we did enough to win."
Team USA had a tenuous 8-6 lead headed into the fourth quarter, but got a power-play strike from Raney, followed by a goal by Fischer and one from Haley Wan (Santa Margarita/Princeton) to regain control.
"When you're playing and all of a sudden a team is coming back, there's always that voice in the back of your mind that says, 'Are they going to come back?'" Daboub said. "I think we all had to come together as a team. That breaking point where we finally had that goal to separate us [9-6] just gave us that extra confidence that we needed, in our system and as a team, to push through."
The Team USA women, who finished 6-0 in the tournament, had to wait until later in the afternoon to receive their gold medals. The medal ceremony was after the men's championship game. The U.S. men rallied to beat Brazil, 10-9, in their gold-medal match.
Tuesday's win also qualified the U.S. women for next year's FINA Junior World Championships in Guadalajara, Mexico.
"[Winning gold again] feels good, plus we put our Junior Worlds girls in a good position by winning this tournament," Kapana said. "That feels good, too."