U.S. women sink Aussies in water polo final

Updated: March 31, 2007, 11:10 AM ET
Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Coach Guy Baker jumped fully clothed into the pool to congratulate his team Saturday after the United States edged Australia 6-5 to win the women's water polo gold medal at the world championships.

Guy Baker
AP Photo/Itsuo InouyeU.S. coach Guy Baker (left) and assistant Kyle Kopp celebrate a gold-medal moment.
Lauren Wenger scored three goals, including the match winner with just over a minute to go, and goalkeeper Elizabeth Armstrong made some clutch saves to lead the U.S. women over top-ranked Australia for its second world championship title.

The United States finished one match better than the previous worlds at Montreal, when it lost to Hungary in the final. The American women advanced following a 10-9 semifinal win over Hungary, which earlier Saturday lost 9-8 to Russia in the bronze-medal match.

Saturday's final match got off to a slow start at the Melbourne Sport and Aquatic Centre, with the scores tied at 1-1 at halftime.

Both teams picked up the tempo in the third quarter, scoring seven goals, but neither could make a clean break for the lead as the United States entered the final eight minutes with a 5-4 lead.

Nikita Cuffe scored with four minutes remaining to tie the score at 5, before Wenger found the net to take the win.

An emotional Baker and his support staff jumped -- or were pushed -- into the water at the final whistle, swimming to the team to share congratulatory hugs and high-fives as the despondent Australians looked on from the pool deck.

U.S. captain Brenda Villa praised Armstrong's match-saving performance.

"She stays cool under pressure," said Villa. "She even pushes me up."

For Armstrong, the win came as something of a surprise.

"I'm kind of shocked ... it's just that I haven't set my brain [on winning] yet," said Armstrong, who was part of America's 2003 gold medal-winning team. "This is my second time, it's a new team, and it feels completely different."

The American and Australian women have built a strong rivalry over the years. Australia edged the United States 4-3 to win the 2000 Olympic gold, while the Americans beat the Aussies 6-5 four years later for bronze at the Athens Games.

The two teams are now looking at maintaining their momentum for next year's Olympics at Beijing.

"There's still a few things to work on before the Olympics, but [a silver medal] is a good start," said Cuffe. "We were chasing for a lot of the game. We were still creating opportunities but didn't put them away, they did."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press