Saturday, December 4

Bruins shepherd U.S. women’s water polo to third-consecutive gold medal

UCLA women's water polo redshirt senior attacker Maddie Musselman won the second Olympic gold medal of her career Saturday, finishing with 18 goals in seven games in Tokyo. (Daily Bruin file photo)

This post was updated Aug. 8 at 8:06 p.m.

Three Bruins completed the three-peat for Team USA.

The U.S. women’s water polo team won its third consecutive Olympic gold medal Saturday, beating Spain 14-5 – the largest margin of victory ever posted in an Olympic final. UCLA women’s water polo redshirt senior attacker Maddie Musselman led the way for Team USA with a game-high three goals, while Bruin alumni Rachel Fattal and Alys Williams each contributed at least one goal.

With three Bruins winning a gold medal in Tokyo, women’s water polo has now accounted for nine UCLA gold medalists over the last three Summer Olympic Games.

On the sport’s biggest stage, it was the three Bruins who got the party started for Team USA. By the time the first-quarter buzzer sounded, the U.S. had built a 4-1 lead, with Musselman, Fattal and Williams all getting on the board.

Musselman completed her hat trick – her fourth in seven games in Tokyo – in the fourth period to put Team USA up by nine. The three-goal performance in the gold medal game came two days after Musselman scored five goals in a semifinal matchup against the Russian Olympic Committee to lead the U.S. to its fourth straight gold medal game.

With 18 goals in seven games, Musselman ranked second among all players in the tournament and was named tournament MVP. Five years ago, the attacker totaled 12 goals at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics to earn the first gold medal of her career before joining UCLA in the fall and setting multiple records with the blue and gold in 2017.

After taking two years off from college to pursue the Olympics, Musselman is expected to return to the Bruins for the 2022 season.

Musselman set a UCLA freshman record with 69 goals in her first season with the Bruins, earning MPSF Newcomer of the Year and First-Team All-American honors. (Daily Bruin file photo)
Musselman set a UCLA freshman record with 69 goals in her first season with the Bruins, earning MPSF Newcomer of the Year and First Team All-American honors. (Daily Bruin file photo)

Fattal – a teammate of Musselman’s on both the 2016 gold medal squad and the 2017 NCAA championship runner-up team – scored in all seven games for Team USA. The former four-time First Team All-American attacker was also the designated sprint-taker for the U.S., racking up 18 sprint wins.

The only non-goalkeeper to play every minute of a game for Team USA during the tournament, Fattal did not leave the pool at any point during the semifinal or final matchups.

Unlike Musselman and Fattal, the gold medal in Tokyo marked the first of Williams’ career after the former Bruin defender was the last woman cut from the 2016 Olympic squad. Williams posted a hat trick with a game-high-tying three goals in a quarterfinal win over Canada. In Team USA’s three elimination games, she combined to shoot 6-of-7 from the pool.

Former UCLA men’s and women’s water polo coach Adam Krikorian has been at the helm of Team USA for each of its three consecutive Olympic gold medals. Krikorian won five consecutive NCAA championships between 2005 and 2009 as the head coach of UCLA women’s water polo before assuming head coaching responsibilities for U.S. women’s water polo.

Redshirt senior attacker Bronte Halligan also took to the pool for her first Olympics, suiting up for Australia. Halligan’s Aussie Stingers came up short of winning their first Olympic medal since 2012, but the Bruin product posted two goals and seven steals in the fifth-place game in a 14-7 triumph over the Netherlands.

Like Musselman, Halligan has one year of collegiate eligibility remaining and could return to Westwood this season.

In 2022, with Musselman and Halligan potentially back in the fold, UCLA will resume its pursuit of the Bruins’ first title since Krikorian’s run came to an end in 2009.

Assistant Sports editor

Settleman is currently an assistant Sports editor on the gymnastics, women's soccer, women's golf, women's water polo and men's water polo beats. He was previously a contributor on the gymnastics and women's water polo beats.

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