Dynasty! Team USA women’s water polo wins third straight Olympic gold medal

Members of the U.S. women's water polo team celebrate after receiving their gold medals Saturday in Japan.
Members of the U.S. women’s water polo team celebrate after receiving their gold medals Saturday at Tutsumi Water Polo Center in Japan.
(Gary Ambrose / For The Times)
Share via

They came, they saw and they conquered.


The U.S. Olympic women’s water polo team extended its dominance in the sport on Saturday in Tokyo, routing Spain 14-5 to claim the Americans’ third straight gold medal.

Maddie Musselman, a Corona del Mar High School product who will be a redshirt senior at UCLA, earned Olympic MVP honors. She scored three goals in the final, but she definitely had help.

Aria Fischer, Alys Williams and Kaleigh Gilchrist — all players who also have local ties — each scored two goals. Fischer is a Laguna Beach graduate now at Stanford, while Williams and Gilchrist played prep water polo at Edison High and Newport Harbor High, respectively.


CdM girls’ water polo coach Melissa Seidemann, Laguna Beach High alumna Makenzie Fischer and CdM graduate Stephania Haralabidis each scored a goal for Team USA in the final. So did Rachel Fattal, who played in high school at Los Alamitos High, and team captain Maggie Steffens.

Goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson made 11 saves and was named the tournament’s top goalie.

The depth of the U.S. was apparent, as different players scored each of the team’s first six goals to open up a 6-1 first-half lead.

“It was pretty cool to see us finally play a four-quarter game,” Musselman, 23, said in a phone interview from Tokyo.

“I feel like all of the games leading up to that ... the way we came out in each game was a little slow. It was nice to have a full game where everyone brought their best every minute they were in there. We kind of punched them in the face first, rather than getting punched in the face first by them. I think they were a little rattled by it. No team had really pressed them throughout the whole Olympics, so that was one of our points of emphasis.”

Team USA set several Olympic records, including the largest margin of victory in a women’s water polo final (nine goals) and the most goals scored in one Olympic Games (109). The Americans’ 366 goals and 27 wins are also all-time records.

Seidemann and Steffens each won their third gold medal, as did coach Adam Krikorian.

Put simply, Team USA is a dynasty, though the squad did have to overcome adversity in Tokyo.

A 10-9 loss to Hungary in group play was the team’s first Olympic loss since 2008, and the U.S. had to rally for a 15-11 victory over the Russian Olympic Committee in the semifinals.

They accomplished the latter feat partially through the offense of Musselman the MVP, who scored four of her five semifinal goals in the second half.

“Obviously, [the MVP] is super-special,” she said. “All of us work hard to be where we are. You put in the effort and the time ... We’re the best team, and at the end of the day that’s what matters most to me, but obviously there’s a little motivation in that award.”

The championship match was all the United States. Maria Garcia led Spain with two goals, but the U.S. defense was on fire in holding Spain to two goals in 16 power-play chances.

Laguna Beach native Aria Fischer loses her cap playing against Spain in the gold medal game.
(Gary Ambrose / For The Times)

The local connections on the current team are noteworthy. Assistant coach Dan Klatt is the UC Irvine women’s water polo head coach. The other assistant coach, Chris Oeding, played water polo at CdM.

Musselman, Gilchrist and the Fischer sisters, returners from the 2016 gold medal team in Rio de Janeiro, earned their second gold medal.

It’s the first gold medal for Williams — the last cut from the Rio team — and Harabaldis, a left-hander who helped CdM win its lone CIF Southern Section Division 1 title in 2013.

Among her two goals, Williams scored the first one of the match less than a minute in.

“To be able to witness her growth as a teammate was really special,” Musselman said. “At the beginning of the tournament, you could see the nerves that she had. The way that she processed that and was able to just play was really cool to see. For her to get the first goal of our Olympic final game just fired us all up.”

The United States is now 134-4 since winning gold in Rio. Musselman said a plane carrying much of the team is scheduled to land at Los Angeles International Airport at about 11 a.m. Monday, Pacific time.

“It’s about the unit that you build, the unit you create and that’s really where the magic lies,” Steffens, the team captain, told reporters after the gold-medal match. “I’m really grateful to be a part of it and to have been able to show the world that magic we’ve created as a circle and as a unit.”

The U.S. Olympic women's water polo team celebrates after winning its third straight gold medal.
The U.S. Olympic women’s water polo team celebrates after winning its third straight gold medal.
(Gary Ambrose / For The Times)

Support our sports coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.

For more sports stories, visit or follow us on Twitter @DailyPilotSport.