Mathewson's spark not enough in U.S. loss at Holiday Cup


NEWPORT BEACH The U.S. women’s water polo team might be the reigning Olympic and world champion but it still found the doldrums Wednesday night at Holiday Cup.

With rival Netherlands on the top of its game and parity filling the scores at Corona del Mar, Team USA’s offense had just two goals approaching the middle of the third period.

Courtney Mathewson delivered a spark but it wasn’t enough for the Americans and backup goalie Gabby Stone, who fell, 9-8, after their late comeback bid fell short.

The Americans surprisingly trailed, 9-4, with under four minutes left before a late surge.

Maggie Steffens scored on a direct shot from about 5 meters with eight seconds left to make it 9-8 but it was an open chance on the counterattack by KK Clark that bounced off the side-post with about a minute left that sealed Team USA’s fate.

“I was embarrassed how we played,” said U.S. coach Adam Krikorian, whose team went 1 for 7 on the power-play. “We were a totally different team tonight than we were yesterday (in an 8-4 victory against Italy). … I don’t think there was any appreciation for the effort and the attitude that is required be successful.

“We clearly wanted to put in the least amount of effort possible to get by and against a great team like Holland, you can’t afford to do that.”

Mathewson, the ex-Canyon and UCLA standout, was an exception and emerged as the Americans’ top player. One of four returning Olympic gold medalists, Mathewson scored from 6 meters off a pass from Steffens in the third that broke a nearly 13-minute scoring drought by Team USA.

Less than a minute later, Mathewson delivered a slick entry pass to Ashley Grossman at center, who tied the score, 4-4, with 4:55 left in the third.

Netherlands (1-1), runner-up to Team USA at the World Championships in August, responded with a five-goal blitz that Mathewson ended with a counterattack strike with 3:45 left.

It was promising play for Mathewson, who has overcome recent finger injuries on her shooting hand and shoulder surgery in 2013.

“It always nice to get back in there and get some minutes under my belt but it doesn’t feel good to lose,” she said. “Tonight, it just so happened that it was me that needed to step up. Tomorrow night it’s probably going to be someone else.”

USA (1-1) takes on Spain (1-1) on Thursday night at 6:30 at CdM. The U.S. men take on Croatia at 8 p.m. Italy’s women also are 1-1.

“There’s parity in the women’s game,” Krikorian said. “We need more people playing with a lot more courage than we showed tonight.”

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