After 17-year journey back to Games, Canadian women's water polo team meets powerhouse U.S. in quarters
Underdog Canadians take on 2-time Olympic champions Tuesday in Tokyo
It will be a David vs. Goliath meeting when Canada's women's water polo team takes on the United States in the quarter-finals of the Tokyo Olympic Games.
The Americans are two-time Olympic champions, storming into the competition with back-to-back gold medals from Rio 2016 and London 2012.
Meanwhile, Canada entered the tournament hungry after persevering through a 17-year journey just to get back into the Games.
At the women's last appearance in Athens 2004, the Canadians didn't qualify for the quarter-finals and finished seventh. In fact, the women's best performance was in Sydney 2000, where Canada placed in fifth in the women's competition's first appearance as an Olympic event..
The United States will come into the quarter-final with fresh legs after having a three-day break from competition.
If they want to the chance to play for a medal, Canada will have to bounce back after their most recent loss against Netherlands and challenge the Americans.
Canada finishes 4th in Group A
The Canadians captured their sole Olympic win in Tokyo against South Africa in its third game of the tournament, emerging with 21-1 victory. Canada began the tournament 0-2, losing to Australia and Spain. They lost their final game 16-12 to Netherlands, but their 1-3 record was enough to get them into the quarter-finals.
Kyra Christmas of High River, Alta., has been the top-scorer for the team, racking up 10 goals so far. Four goals came in the match against Netherlands, with the only other Canadian to score four in a single game in Tokyo being Gurpreet Sohi of Delta, B.C.
And while this is the Canadian women's first-ever Olympic quarter-final match, it doesn't mean they haven't felt the satisfying weight of a medal around their necks.
Among their accomplishments, the team won silver at the FINA World League Super Final in 2017 in Shanghai, China and a 2015 Pan American Games silver in Toronto.
The women qualified for the Olympics in Tokyo after another silver-medal performance at the 2019 Pan American Games in Lima. The U.S. won the gold.
As the Canadians climbed in the FINA women's water polo world rankings to tie sixth place with Australia, the Americans have been dominating the No.1 spot since 2009.
Canada will face the United States at the Tatsumi Water Polo Centre on Tuesday.
U.S. has top-scoring female water-polo Olympian
The United States hasn't shown much weakness in the tournament so far. It finished the preliminary round in top spot in Group B. Its only loss came against Hungary — another country with a history of water polo excellence, but who will want to make the podium after three consecutive fourth-place finishes.
It was the American team's first loss at the Olympics since losing the gold-medal match to Netherlands in 2008.
American coach Adam Krikorian said the team spent time trying to get back to playing the "right way" with the "right decisions" after Hungary took its gutsy 10-9 win.
"A lot was said and a lot was felt, more so I think the emotions," he said. "This is an extremely competitive group. They don't like to lose and part of the reason why we've had this sustained success is they just take pride in the way they play."
The bruised pride didn't seem to shake their confidence much, with the United States rallying to defeat the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) 18-5 during the team's last game of group play.
Maggie Steffens of the United States became the all-time top scorer in Olympic women's water polo in that match — just two games after she suffered a broken nose in their 12-7 win against China. She has scored 49 goals over three Olympic games.
"It's great, it's beautiful. Don't matter if it's broken, spirit is alive, and you know this is what the Games are about," Steffens said.
"That's the sign of a great player. She doesn't force the issue, she lets the game come to her, and especially in this situation when you know that record is looming," said Krikorian.
The United States opened its tournament with a 25-4 thrashing of host nation Japan.
The other three matches have Spain against China, Netherlands against Hungary and Australia vs. ROC.