Laguna Beach resident Annika Dries and Team USA are two wins away from their first Olympic gold medal in women’s water polo, after knocking off 2004 gold medal winner Italy 9-6 on Sunday.
The Americans are the only team to medal in all three previous games since the sport was introduced in Sydney (’00), where they took home the silver. They followed that with a bronze in Athens (’04) and another silver in Beijing (’08).
Team USA earned the number two seed and a shot at Italy after beating China 7-6 on Friday in a bloody match that left Dries, a 2009 graduate of Laguna Beach High, and teammate Jessica Steffans with bandages over their left eyes from the physical play.
Dries scored in the third period with a Chinese defender draped over her shoulder to give the Americans their first lead of the game at 4-3, one they wouldn’t relinquish against a physical Chinese squad, which entered the Games ranked number two in the world.
On Sunday, the Americans found themselves in a 2-0 hole early in the first period against Italy. They outscored the Italians 9-3 the rest of the way with tough team defense and goals from five different players.
Dries’ Stanford teammate Melissa Seidemann found the back of the net on all three of her shots. Brenda Villa and Kelly Rulon added two more scores each. Veteran goalkeeper Betsey Armstrong came up with 13 saves, as she and the American defense gave up only one goal on a penalty shot during one 20-minute span.
Team USA faces Australia on Tuesday for a chance to advance to the Gold medal game on Thursday.
Women’s Beach Volleyball
In their toughest match of the Games so far, local duo Jen Kessy (San Clemente) and April Ross (Newport Beach) beat the Czech Republic in straight sets 25-23, 21-18 on Sunday to continue their march toward Olympic gold. They will play number one seed Brazil in the semifinals on Tuesday.
The difference in the closely contested match came at the net, where Kessy and Ross knocked down 54 percent of their kill attempts compared to 39 percent for the Czechs.
It could be an all-American final if number four seeded Kessy/Ross can get by Brazil and number three seed Misty May-Treanor/Kerri Walsh-Jennings can defeat China. Both matches are this Tuesday.