US women win 1st gold in Olympic water polo

Associated Press Modified: August 9, 2012 at 11:31 pm •  Published: August 9, 2012

LONDON (AP) — In her first Olympics, Maggie Steffens wanted to make sure Brenda Villa and Heather Petri won that long-elusive gold medal in their last.

The 19-year-old Steffens on Thursday capped a stunning two-week performance in London, scoring five goals to power the U.S. past Spain 8-5 and give the Americans their first ever Olympic women's water polo title.

The win was extra sweet for Villa and Petri, two decorated veterans playing in their last Olympics. They had medaled for the U.S. at every games since women's water polo made its debut in 2000, but had never won gold — until now.

"I am speechless. It still hasn't sunk in," Villa said. "I can't describe it. It's the end of a journey, and I got my fairy-tale ending."

The U.S. has long been a power in women's water polo, but the Americans had never translated their success at other major competitions to the Olympics, finishing third in 2004 and second in 2000 and 2008.

After the disappointment of Beijing, Villa and Petri and five other veterans from 2008 came back this year, and were joined by a talented batch of new players, chief among them Steffens.

"The moment she came into training camp, you never would have thought she's a kid. She plays like a veteran," Villa said. "For me, one of the oldest on the team, it's an honor to play with someone so talented. She brought a spark to the team that was needed."

Steffens brought more than a spark to the Olympics. Her five-goal effort in the final came as a bookend to her stunning seven-goal Olympic debut to open the games, on her way to racking up a tournament high tally of 21.

Against Spain she was unstoppable, scoring with long-distance shots, outmuscling Spanish defenders in front of goal to score from close range and even slotting home a penalty shot.

"I'd say she was the best player in the world in this tournament," coach Adam Krikorian said. "But there's no way we do this without everyone else."

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