FINA World League Women Intercontinental Tournament

(SACRAMENTO, California) – On Tuesday, when six women’s water polo teams face off in their opening games at the FINA World League Intercontinental Tournament, expect to see many new players, new coaches, and a new ranking system for round-robin play. As a result, fans can expect to see closer-than-usual matches and perhaps a wild upset or two leading up to Sunday’s playoffs at the Schaal Aquatics Center at the University of California-Davis.

Source: Aimee Berg, FINA Press Correspondent in the US

From May 2-6, however, the six teams will play each other once in a round-robin format. Tuesday’s opening matches will be: Australia vs. China, followed by Japan vs. Canada, and USA vs. Kazakhstan. This year, teams will be awarded 3 points for a win, 2 points for a win by penalty shot, 1 point for a loss by penalty shot, and zero points for a flat-out defeat.  

The tournament concludes on May 7, after a full day of playoffs. The top-four teams (plus China) will advance to the FINA Women’s Water Polo World League Super Final, June 6-11, in Shanghai, China.

Meanwhile, here is what you need to know about each team.

THE UNITED STATES, the reigning world and Olympic champion, will attempt to defend its Intercontinental title with only two Olympians on its 13-woman roster (defender Melissa Seidemann and 18-year-old center Aria Fischer). Five other Rio veterans – including the top U.S. goalie Ashleigh Johnson – will be absent because the tournament coincides with their collegiate season. Instead, the U.S. will be testing two young talents in the net: 16-year-old high school junior Thea Walsh and Georgia Phillips.

AUSTRALIA, last year’s runner-up, named a new head coach in February. Sakis Kechagias had previously coached the Greek women’s national team. He revealed his Intercontinental roster on April 26, a week after an intensive training camp at the Australian Institute of Sport. Top players include Rowie Webster, a 2012 Olympic bronze medalist who, for one, is excited about the new direction Australia is taking toward the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

“It’s fun. It’s vibrant. Everyone’s refreshed,” she said. “It would be great to come out and say we want to win every game [but] our goals are really relative to where we are in the cycle.”

CHINA returns after placing third at the 2016 Intercontinental tournament and seventh at the Rio Olympics. Like Australia, it, too, has new leadership following the departure of its Olympic coach Ricardo Azevedo. In the water, keep an eye on Ma Huanhuan, 27, a three-time Olympian who was China’s top goal scorer in Rio (11 goals in six games) as well as her Rio Olympic teammates 183 cm (6-foot) tall goalkeeper Peng Lin, and 18-year-old center forward Xiong Dunhan.

CANADA placed fourth at the 2016 Intercontinental tournament. Six players have come back, including the 32-year-old driver, Dominique Perreault, and 30-year-old Joelle Bekhazi who, in 2010, was the first Canadian woman to win an NCAA water polo championship title (with the University of Southern California).  

JAPAN is returning with more than half its players from last year, including 2016 team captain Shino Magariyama. Japan’s sixth-place finish in the 2016 tournament, however, kept it out of the World League Super Final. The seven veterans on the 13-member squad will certainly want to avenge that. If Japan can move up two places this time, it will automatically qualify for Shanghai.

KAZAKHSTAN may be the new team in the field, but it is not new to water polo. In fact, the Asian nation competed in the Olympics the first two times women’s water polo was on the program: in Sydney in 2000 and Athens in 2004. It also contested nine world championships dating back to 1994.   

 Share this