ANNAPOLIS -- Thanks to superior conditioning as much as anything, the United States has a shot at its first water polo world championship in 87 years.
That is because the women's junior (20 and under) national team surged away from rapidly tiring New Zealand and won, 7-3, as the Women's Junior World Water Polo Invitational continued yesterday at the Naval Academy.
The victory, achieved with a stifling defense, a patient offense and four goals by Severn School graduate Vicki Gorman, sets up today's 3 p.m. title game rematch with Quebec at MacDonough Hall.
No U.S. team has won a championship since the men's team did it in 1904. This one must be achieved against Quebec (4-0), which dealt the United States (3-1) its only loss, 7-4, on Thursday, and is unbeaten in three games (2-0-1) against the Americans.
Quebec clinched its berth in the championship also by topping New Zealand, 6-4, in a game played later yesterday.
"This is probably the best scenario. Losing to Quebec the way we did gives us lots of incentive," said U.S. coach Brent Bohlander.
His team's incentive against New Zealand (2-2) was questionable at first. "We were a little flat after yesterday [Thursday]," Bohlander said. But the U.S. team regrouped from a slow start to outshoot the losers, 27-8.
In addition to the goals, four other shots hit the post, and matters might have gotten completely out of hand were it not for a superb game by losing goalie Jo Hadfield. Her 10 saves included repeated stops from point-blank range.
Both Bohlander and New Zealand coach Paul Metz said that conditioning was a major factor.
"It was not only speed. The total fitness of the U.S. was much better," said Metz, a former international player for The Netherlands. "We did have our chances, with four or five power plays, and could have used them better.
"But that's New Zealand polo. For us, this is not junior polo. It's junior-junior polo. The girls are just not as mature as the Canadians and Americans.
"It was still a good team effort which we can use and benefit from. We'll get the most out of it. Let's just get the people fit before we leave home."
The U.S. team's advantages in speed, strength and endurance began to tell shortly after Nikki Hadfield gave New Zealand its only lead, 1-0, when she collected her own rebounding shot off U.S. goalie Tricia McGuire of Landover and scored after 6 minutes, 53 seconds of the first quarter.
Then U.S. standouts Heather Moody and Rachelle Gue scored on long shots at the outset of the second quarter. New Zealand's Tushka Glintmeyer forced one last tie, 2-2, but that lasted only 16 seconds before Gorman began slamming balls to the back of the cage.
"I was conscious of picking the team up. It wasn't just up to me, but I was lucky enough to get the opportunities and take advantage," said Gorman, who capitalized on fine ball movement in set situations. "New Zealand looked a little fatigued. But our play stepped up a notch, too, because this game meant the tournament for us."
The improved play included a defense led by Carrie Basye (Annapolis High), Lesley Kerfoot, Patty Macias, Gue and Moody. They blanked Leah Wistrand, whose nine goals going in led the tournament, and shut out the losers for 12:24 as the U.S. built a 5-2 lead with four minutes left.
"New Zealand had to be deliberate on offense and defense, and they did a good job of slowing us down," Bohlander said. "It was our counterattack that made the difference. They had to chase us down the pool, and they got tired in the third quarter."
Yesterday's other games included a heartbreaking loss for the U.S. B team, which fell to Brazil, 11-10, on Christina Pinuroli's goal with four seconds left.
The Americans had trailed most of the way before rallying into a 10-10 tie on Tracy Proietti's goal with 25 seconds to go.