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U.S. women sink Aussies in water polo final

3/31/2007

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.

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."