U.S. Women Beat Hungary To Secure Another Water Polo World Title
by Bob Reinert
The U.S. women's water polo team poses during the medal ceremony of the women's gold-medal match against Team Hungary at the 2022 FINA World Championships on July 2, 2022 in Budapest, Hungary.
The U.S. women’s water polo team built a four-goal lead early in the fourth quarter and then held on against hard-charging host Hungary to win 9-7 in the gold-medal game of the FINA World Championships on Saturday in Budapest, Hungary.
It was seventh world title, and fourth in a row, for the Americans, whose dominance in the sport has never been more obvious. The U.S. four-peat was made possible by world titles in 2015, 2017, 2019 and now 2022.
The U.S. has also won three straight Olympic gold medals, and it’s the holder of the sport’s two other major championships as well. Team USA has won the past three FINA World Cups, dating back to 2010, and it’s the seven-time defending champ in the annual FINA World League.
On Friday, the U.S. men defeated Hungary in the classification playoffs. They’ll face Serbia on Sunday for fifth place. The men finished sixth at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 and were ninth at the 2019 world championships.
The veteran U.S. team included seven Tokyo Olympians and eight returning world champions. That experience paid off in a competitive final game.
After a closely contested first half, the U.S. pushed out to an 8-4 advantage with 6:36 remaining in the game on Ryann Neushul’s third goal of the second half. That looked to be a sufficient cushion until Hungary scored the next three goals to close it to 8-7 with 1:23 left to play.
Maddie Musselman’s penalty score with 49 seconds to go — her team-high fifth goal of the match — settled the issue, and the in-pool celebration soon began. Musselman had a highly efficient day, finding the back of the net on five of her eight shots for a 63 percent rate.
The home team was thwarted in its attempt at a world championship on its own soil, which would have been the third in its history. The Hungarians had won twice before, in 1994 and 2005. Instead, they ran into the heavily favored Americans, who finished the tournament undefeated.
Hungary didn’t go quietly, however, seizing a 1-0 lead at 5:29 of the opening quarter before the Americans answered with a pair of power play goals by Musselman to make it 2-1 at the end of the frame.
The Hungarians tied it at 2-2 as the second quarter began, but Musselman struck again on the counterattack to make it 3-2. After Hungary knotted it again, captain Maggie Steffens gave Team USA a 4-3 halftime lead.
Neushul’s post-halftime hat trick sandwiched around another Musselman penalty effort presented the Americans with their four-goal advantage before the Hungarian onslaught began but ultimately fell short.
Goalie Ashleigh Johnson stopped 10 Hungarian shots, and Kaleigh Gilchrist contributed a pair of assists for Team USA.
The U.S. converted 33 percent of its shots on the day, while Hungary was held to 24 percent efficiency. The Americans also converted on three of their nine power-play opportunities.
Musselman was named most valuable player of the finals. Johnson was tabbed as most valuable goalkeeper. Musselman and Johnson were also chosen to the media all-star team.
Bob Reinert spent 17 years writing sports for The Boston Globe. He also served as a sports information director at Saint Anselm College and Phillips Exeter Academy. He is a contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.