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Water Polo

Santa Barbara Water Polo Stars Win Gold With USA Women’s Team in Rio

Local water polo stars Kami Craig, Sami Hill and Kiley Neushul guide Team USA to gold-medal victory against Italy

Kiley Neushul celebrates with coach Adam Krikorian after Team USA’s victory over Italy for the Rio Olympics gold medal. Neushul is a Dos Pueblos alum. Click to view larger
Kiley Neushul celebrates with coach Adam Krikorian after Team USA’s victory over Italy for the Rio Olympics gold medal. Neushul is a Dos Pueblos alum. (Peter Neushul photo)

Santa Barbara’s three water polo Olympians came up triumphant on the biggest stage, helping lead Team USA to an emphatic 12-5 victory over Italy during the gold medal match on Friday at the Rio Olympics. 

Team USA’s Kiley Neushul looks for a score against Italy during the gold medal match at the Rio Olympics on Friday afternoon.
Team USA’s Kiley Neushul looks for a score against Italy during the gold medal match at the Rio Olympics on Friday afternoon. (USA Water Polo)

Dos Pueblos alum Kiley Neushul led the way with three goals for the U.S., while Kami Craig added a score of her own and drew a penalty shot.

After subbing in late during the fourth quarter, Sami Hill tallied two saves and played some valuable minutes in goal for the Americans.

Initially, Team USA jumped out to an early 1-0 lead before the Italians responded with a score of their own. 

Video by NBC Sports

However, with back-to-back goals from the dynamic duo of Neushul (Dos Pueblos alum) and Craig (Santa Barbara High alum), the Americans took a 3-1 advantage and never looked back.

Leading 5-3 at halftime, the U.S. compressed its defense even further and took advantage of numerous counterattack opportunities to extend its lead to 9-4 headed into the final period.

Eight players scored for the U.S., including the first five goals coming from different players: Courtney Mathewson, Neushul, Craig, Makenzie Fischer and Rachel Fattal.

“That’s been a theme for us this entire tournament,” Krikorian said of the goal-scoring.

“We played water polo different than any team has ever played this game,” goalie Ashleigh Johnson told reporters.

Team USA’s Kami Craig raises her arms in jubilation after clinching her third Olympic medal and second consecutive gold medal. Click to view larger
Team USA’s Kami Craig raises her arms in jubilation after clinching her third Olympic medal and second consecutive gold medal.  (USA Water Polo)

“One of the most athletic, creative, crafty teams to ever play the game,” Craig said in the press conference. “Not in the U.S. but in the world.”

"It's one of the best teams I've ever been a part of, and I've been a part of some really amazing teams,'' Neushul told ESPN. "The team is so versatile, so many different threats. We have speed. We have size. We have athleticism, and I think this team was one of the first teams to display all those different styles in one team.''

In the fourth quarter, Team USA head coach Adam Krikorian brought in Hill (DP alum) to replace starting  Johnson in the cage.

Friday’s complete domination of Italy provided the latest achievement for Team USA, which becomes the first group to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in women’s water polo. In six games, the Americans won all of their matches by an average margin of 6.8 goals. 

This squad has now won 22 games in a row dating back to a loss against Australia at the Kunshan Cup in China on May 31.

Sami Hill makes a save during the gold medal match. Hill is a Dos Pueblos alum. Click to view larger
Sami Hill makes a save during the gold medal match. Hill is a Dos Pueblos alum. (Peter Neushul photo)

During the Olympic tournament, Neushul finished with 10 goals while Craig tallied five scores of her own. In a limited role as backup goalkeeper, Hill had six saves. 

With distinctive chemistry and flair demonstrated throughout the Olympic tournament, the local trio proudly represented the Santa Barbara area while coming away with gold at the Rio Games. 

This emphatic victory marks the first time three locals on the same Olympic team have successfully claimed the ultimate prize.

For Craig, a three-time Olympian, this recent performance provides the latest accomplishment in a highly decorated career. The former Dons standout walks away from this grand stage with two consecutive gold medals and a silver medal from 2008.

— Noozhawk sports reporter Blake DeVine can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports and @noozhawk. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Team USA and coaches celebrate in the pool after winning the gold medal. Click to view larger
Team USA and coaches celebrate in the pool after winning the gold medal. (Peter Neushul photo)
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