U.S. women's water polo team finishes sweep

CORONA DEL MAR — Tumua Anae is often seen as reserved, a calming influence on the United States women's water polo Olympic team.

Still, do not think for a second that she isn't extremely thrilled to be representing her country in her first Olympic Games. To some extent, she also represented her high school during Sunday afternoon's exhibition game against Hungary.

She received a nice ovation from the crowd at her alma mater, Corona del Mar High, when she came into the game in goal midway through the fourth quarter. And after the game, her eyes began to tear up when she talked about playing again in the CdM pool.

"It's great for me to have my family here, to play at home and to be going to the Olympics," Anae said before getting a bit choked up. "It's just really exciting. It just means a lot to be home."

Anae won CIF swimming and girls' water polo titles at CdM before graduating in 2006, and the 2010 national women's water polo championship as a senior at USC. She said her mother, Annabel, and older sister, Jordan, were there to watch Sunday's action, along with a lot of her extended family and plenty of CdM and USC friends.

The Anaes, along with the rest of the near-capacity crowd estimated at 1,000, saw yet another United States win.

Team USA swept the week's four-game exhibition series with Hungary after winning Sunday's match, 9-4. It was the last game action for top-ranked Team USA before the London Olympics, which begin for the Americans in group play against Hungary on July 30.

U.S. Coach Adam Krikorian still has a firm grasp on the big picture. He said about a year ago, team member Kelly Rulon bought her teammates the book by Duke and U.S. Olympic men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, "The Gold Standard: Building a World-Class Team."

Krikorian said "Coach K" also will talk to his team this week. The American water polo women are flying to Las Vegas on Monday night, and while there they will meet with Krzyzewski and watch the U.S. men's basketball team practice.

As for the exhibition sweep against Hungary, Krikorian again is looking big picture.

"I don't think it gives us a whole lot of momentum, to be honest," Krikorian said. "We talked at the beginning of the week [about] how these four games weren't going to make or break us. The most important thing about these four games is just learning from every game that we play, and from the series as a whole. The first game [of the Olympics] is still three weeks away. It's not like we're playing tomorrow ... I'd be very surprised if the game in London on July 30 isn't a one- or two-goal game. I think [the Hungarians] are better than how they played here."

Krikorian undoubtedly did see some positives from Team USA, which led 4-3 at halftime before breaking the game open in the third quarter. Defensively, the Americans were stout, allowing just one goal in the second half. Starting goalie Betsey Armstrong made seven saves.

"If they're going to beat us, they've got to have to beat us on something pretty amazing, something special," Krikorian said. "We did that today — we played solid defensively. We did a great job of communicating on our defense, and that's a big key for us."

The United States converted all four of its power-play opportunities in that third quarter. First it was Maggie Steffens from the left side, then Kami Craig from center. Elsie Windes fired one in from the left as the six-on-five was ending, then Rulon did the same. Add in a long lob shot from Rulon from about nine meters, and suddenly Team USA was up, 9-4, after three quarters.

For the game, the United States converted five of 10 power-play opportunities. Hungary converted just one of five.

"It seems to always come down to six-on-five," said Rulon, who led Team USA with three goals. "It's interesting, because I never really thought about it until playing internationally. If you win your six-on-five, you usually win the game. It was definitely better today. We were much more patient and composed. I think it was our patience that helped us a lot, and our shooting. We were able to finish, as opposed to [Thursday's 7-6 win over Hungary in] San Diego, where we had a hard time finishing."

Team captain Brenda Villa had two goals and two steals for the United States, and Lauren Wenger also scored. The U.S. was strong at two meters, where Craig drew at least three Hungary exclusions and Laguna Beach High product Annika Dries drew two.

Rita Kesztehlyi led Hungary with two goals. Flóra Bolonyai made six saves.

Late in the second quarter, Team USA's Melissa Seidemann and Hungary's Barbara Bujka got tangled up in the U.S. back court. Both Seidemann and Bujka were eventually issued game misconduct penalties and ejected.

Anae, who played all of Wednesday's 14-8 victory over Hungary in Los Alamitos and the second half of Friday's game, made one save on Sunday for Team USA. It came with just less than two minutes to go.

"A perfect game, right?" she said with a smile. "Fortunately, I've gotten some playing time, so it was good. For me, I think it's about confidence, about experience. It's really nice to get in there and be able to beat this [Hungarian] team, which is such an offensive team. It's good to get in there and get some blocks."

Team USA, trying to win the first gold medal in team history after capturing silver in Beijing in 2008, will continue training for the London Olympics before leaving on July 22. First comes that time with "Coach K." Krikorian is looking forward to it.

"Similar to us, just like they were in '08, [U.S. men's basketball is] the favorites or one of the favorites," Krikorian said. "There's probably a lot of pressure on them. I know they pride themselves on the way they play defense, just like we do ... I've always been a big admirer of 'Coach K.' I grew up kind of idolizing John Wooden. Obviously with my history, and my connections [as UCLA coach], I got to know him fairly well.

"I know 'Coach K' would be the first to say there will never be another Coach Wooden, but he's almost a miniature Coach Wooden, or a younger Coach Wooden. A lot of their values are the same, as coaches. I think for me, even if I get to spend two minutes with him, it will be a special time. We both have last names that start with 'K' and are hard to pronounce."

Many fans root against Krzyzewski's Duke teams. The reception has been much better for Team USA on this four-game California series against Hungary.

Rulon, a veteran who will be playing in her second Olympics, said she is confident the team can accomplish big things in England.

"I'm happy with where we are now," she said. "We have, what, two weeks before we head off, so we have a little fine-tuning to do. But if it was tomorrow, I wouldn't have any doubts. If it was a month from tomorrow, I still wouldn't have any doubts. This team brings it."


Twitter: @mjszabo

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