Aimee Berg, FINA Press Correspondent in the US

(DAVIS, California) - The U.S. and Australia extended their perfect records on Day 3 of the FINA Women’s Intercontinental Tournament. Canada also picked up its first victory, while China and Kazakhstan remain winless.

Under partly cloudy skies and steeply dropping temperatures, Canada opened Thursday’s play with a 12-9 triumph over China. Australia beat Kazakhstan, 9-5, to remain undefeated, and – in the match of the night between two teams with unblemished 2-0 records – the US beat Japan, 10-6, in its effort to defend its 2016 title.

The round-robin format will continue at Schaal Aquatic Center at the University of California-Davis through Saturday, followed by playoffs on Sunday. The top four teams (plus China) will qualify for the FINA World League Super Final in Shanghai, China, from June 6-11. Beyond that, all six squads will meet again later this summer the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary (July 16-28).

Deng Zewen picks her shot (Photo by Aimee Berg)

GAME 1: 16:30 CHINA 9 CANADA 12
Quarters: 2-5, 2-4, 3-1, 2-2.
Referees: Andrew Carney (AUS), Haz Ortega (USA)
Extra Man: CHN 3/5. CAN 5/9.
Pens: Nil.

Teams:
CHINA: Peng Lin, Xiong Dunhan (1), Tian Jianing, Pan Li, Zhai Ying, Deng Zewen (1), Guo Ning (2), Deng Yu, Nong Sanpeng (1), Ma Huanhuan (1), Wang Dujuan (3), Li Chenying, Xie Yuting, Head Coach: Lin Jun.
CANADA: Jessica Gaudreault, Kelly McKee, Axelle Crevier, Elyse Lemay (4), Chayma Hlanadif, Michelle Caron (1), Joelle Bekhazi (3), Shae Fournier (1), Gurpreet Sohi (1), Dominique Perreault (1), Verica Bakoc (1), Marina Radu, Clara Vulpisi,  Head Coach: David Paradelo.

In the China-Canada match, each team was looking for its first victory in the tournament.

In the first period, Canada out-shot China (11 to 5), and carried a 5-2 lead into the second quarter. From there, goals from Joelle Bekhazi, Michelle Caron, and a neat skip shot by Verica Bakoc gave Canada an 8-2 lead with 3:36 remaining in the half. China’s Deng Zewen, netted a ball to make it 8-3. But 25 seconds before the buzzer, Dominique Perreault scored on a power play to become the seventh different Canadian player to score in its 9-3 lead. China earned one more goal on a power play in the final two seconds before halftime to make it 9-4.  

But then, China rallied and scored the first three points of the second half – including a power play goal by Nong Sanpeng, and two more goals by Wang Dujuan to reduce its deficit to 9-7.  Bekhazi answered with her third goal of the game and Canada led, 10-7. Wang Dujuan tried to shrink the difference by launching a powerful shot at the net right before the third-quarter buzzer but Canada’s Jessica Gaudreault made the save. The fourth quarter was all or nothing for China, but each team scored twice, and Canada won, 12-9.

Note: No matter what happens here and/or at the FINA World League Super Final in June, both teams will meet again in July as Canada and China are in Group A of the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

QUOTES:
China player Wang Dujuan (3 goals):
“Canada is a strong team. Maybe today on offense we made some mistakes passing balls, and maybe we weren’t physical enough.”

Canada player Shae Fournier (1 goal):
“That [game] was intense!  I think we worked together really well. There are some new people, new systems, and obviously still little breakdowns in learning to work together. But I think we’re coming together really well.”

Kazakhstan battled Australia on Day 3 (Photo by Aimee Berg)

GAME 2: 17:50, AUSTRALIA 9 KAZAKHSTAN 5
Quarters: 3-1, 1-1, 3-2, 2-1.
Referees: Tadao Tahara (JPN), Steven Rotsart (USA)
Extra Man: AUS 0/4. KAZ 1/4.
Pens: AUS 1/1. KAZ 1/1.

Teams:
AUSTRALIA: Lilian Hedges, Keesja Gofers (2), Hannah Buckling (1), Elle Armit, Isobel Bishop (1), Amy Ridge (1), Rowie Webster (3), Bridget Leeson-Smith, Dayna O’Leary, Tiana Sogaard Anderson (1), Ashleigh Roberts, Alice Williams, Gabriella Palm, Head Coach: Sakis Kechagias.
KAZAKHSTAN: Alexandra Zharkinbaeva, Anastassia Yeremina, Aizhan Akilbaeva, Anna Turova, Kamila Zakizova (1), Anna Novikova (1), Darya Roga, Oxana Saichuk (2), Sivilya Raiter, Darya Muravyeva, Anastassia Mirshina (1), Assem Mussarova, Aigerim Abildaeva, Head Coach: Andrey Sazukin.

The first goal of the game was a 5-meter penalty shot by Australia’s captain Rowie Webster.  Kazazkhstan’s Kamila Zakizova tied the game less than a minute and a half later. Keesja Gofers put Australia ahead 2-1, but the most exciting goal of the period came when Isobel Bishop stole the ball in front of Kazakhstan's net, broke away, and whipped in a solo goal from the far right side of the pool to give Australia 3-1 lead.  Each team scored once in the second period and Australia led, 4-2, at halftime.

In the second half, Australia added three more points before a foul on Rowie Webster enabled Kazakhstan to take a penalty shot – which Anastassia Mirshina bounced past Aussie goalie Gabrielle Palm to make it 7-3. Oxana Saichuck scored again for Kazakhstan less than a minute later. But Australia would ultimately net two more goals in the fourth quarter before allowing Kazakhstan’s Anna Novikova to score the final goal of the game – on a power play. Final score: 9-5 Australia.

Note: Regardless of whether these two teams qualify for the FINA World League Super Final in Shanghai in June, Australia and Kazakhstan will meet again in Group D of the 2017 FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary in July.

QUOTES:
Australia Captain Rowie Webster (3 goals):
[Question: How would you characterize that game?] “Extremely rough. The referees are not [giving] too many easy fouls so it’s really hard to get the flow of the game going. But they gave us a challenge, and I think today we rose to it. We did a good job to get the win.”

Kazakhstan Head Coach Andrey Sazukin (through an interpreter):
“Every counter attack was on our mistake. All their goals were made shooting on counterattack. When we play 6 to 6, it was not mistakes.”

Alexandra Thomason, USA #4 (Photo by Sam Stringer/USAWP)

GAME 3: 19:10, JAPAN 6 UNITED STATES 10
Quarters: 0-2, 3-2, 1-4, 2-2.
Referees: Victor Salnicenko (KAZ), Martin Murray (CAN)
Extra Man: JPN 2/6. USA 3/7.
Pens: Nil.

Teams:
JAPAN: Miyuu Aoki, Yumi Arima (2), Haruna Nonomura, Shino Magariyama,  Chiaki Sakanoue (2), Miku Koida, Akari Inada, Mimori Yamamoto, Kana Hosoya (1), Misaki Noro, Marina Tokumoto, Kotori Suzuki (1), Yuka Kamatashiro, Head Coach: Hideo Kato.
UNITED STATES: Thea Walsh, Ava Johnson (2), Melissa Seidemann (3), Alexandra Thomason, Sarah Klass (1), Bayley Weber, Alexis Liebowitz (2), Ryann Neushul, Aria Fischer, Jewel Roemer (2), Abrielle Hill, Paige Hauschild, Georgia Phillips, Head Coach: Adam Krikorian.

USA vs. Japan was the most anticipated game of the night because both teams had a perfect 2-0 record in round-robin play.

In the first quarter, however, the U.S. took a 2-0 lead despite being outshot by Japan 12 to 5. (Melissa Seidemann scored both goals.) In the first two minutes of the second quarter, 19-year-old Yumi Arima scored for Japan to make it 2-1. The teams alternated the next four goals, ending with another point by Arima to keep Japan alive – although it trailed 4-3, at halftime.  

The U.S. ran away with the third period, scoring four goals to Japan’s one – first on a skip shot by Sarah Klass past goalie Miyuu Aoki, followed by Seidemann’s third goal of the night, and later, Jewel Roemer’s long-range cross-net shot on a power play and, finally, Ava Johnson’s last-chance goal into a wide-open just as the shot clock was expiring. All that gave the U.S. an 8-4 lead entering the fourth quarter. But when Chiaki Sakanoue bounced the ball into the net past U.S. goalie Thea Walsh and Kotori Suzuki whipped in a decisive goal, Japan was back in the game, trailing 6-8 with 4:10 to go. After a brief game of chicken with goalie Aoki, however, Ava Johnson lightly placed the ball into the net to extend the U.S. advantage, 9-6. Less than a minute and a half later, Alexis Liebowitz closed out the scoring for a 10-6 U.S. victory.

Friday’s games open with Kazakhstan and China (who is each seeking its first victory), followed by Japan vs. Australia, and USA vs. Canada.

QUOTES:
Japan player Yumi Arima (2 goals):
“They [the U.S.] are very strong on defense, therefore we were prompted by them to take rather [weak] shots, not strong shots. The US was defending with zone defense and we were not good enough to take the middle shots. Both of our next opponents, Australia and China, are bigger than us in terms of size so we need to be more mobile and agile so that we can be competitive with those opponents. I’m 19 years old. This is my first year on the senior national team. I’m in my second year in university.”

United States Head Coach Adam Krikorian:
“The Japanese team’s tough. Was I worried? I’m never worried in any game. But they’re great; they’re relentless, Japan is. [Question: Were you trying to encourage the US to do a lot of passing? Or were the younger players just being careful?] The Japanese team presses very well. We had a hard time holding position against them so we had to pass the ball around a lot to try to get the opening; they kept taking our opening away. We prefer not as many passes, actually.”