By Cybele Zhang
With the help of eight Stanford students and alumni, USA water polo flaunted its strength this weekend and captured gold at the Pan American (Pan Am) Games in both the men’s and women’s events. These victories cemented Team USA’s standings in the Americas and thus earned each team a bid to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
While countries are only able to send an eleven-person roster to the Pan Am Games, which occur every four years, the mix of current Stanford players and alumni accounted for six spots on the women’s roster and two on the men’s. Cardinal players selected for the two-continent event include Aria Fischer ’21, Makenzie Fischer ’20, Jamie Neushul ’17, Kiley Neushul ’15, Melissa Seidemann ’12 and Maggie Steffens ’17 on the women’s side and Alex Bowen ’14 and Ben Hallock ’21 on the men’s.
Though it entered the tournament as a favorite, the U.S. claimed victories in remarkable fashion given that four American athletes were injured just two weeks prior in a balcony collapse at the International Swimming Federation (FINA) World Championship in Gwangju, South Korea.
Hallock only suffered minor cuts, but fellow Americans Kaleigh Gilchrist, Paige Hauschild and Johnny Hooper were more seriously hurt. Gilchrist, although on the initial roster, was unable to make the trip to Peru given her recent surgery. Hauschild and Hopper both required stitches but still participated in the Pan Am Games, where both scored at least once in the championship match.
The women punched their ticket first, decisively defeating Canada 24-4 on Saturday morning in the tournament final. All six Cardinal women on the roster found the back of the net in the championship game, but 2019 Peter J. Cutino Award-winner Makenzie Fischer had an especially impressive showing, leading the team with six goals. Steffens, a two-time international Player of the Year, added four more points, and Jamie Neushul scored three more. Aria Fischer, Kiley Neushul and Seidemann scored one goal apiece, bringing Stanford’s championship point total to 15, more than any other university represented in the final.
The victory extended Team USA’s win streak to 59 and gave the American women their fifth consecutive Pan Am gold medal. The women finished play in Lima undefeated with a 6-0 record and outscored their opponents 142-24. Although the Olympic roster has not yet been finalized, all six Stanford women are favorites to be named to the list.
Team USA’s reign continued into Saturday night, when the men’s team secured gold with a 18-6 defeat of Canada. This was the Americans’ seventh-straight gold at the Pan Am Games. And yet again, Cardinal players proved to be the spine of the offense: Bowen and Hallock each scored five. As in the women’s final just a few hours earlier, Stanford had the most goals of any other university represented in the men’s final.
The 21-year-old Hallock came out strong, scoring in the first minute to give the U.S. the early lead. Just five minutes later, Bowen added another goal during a power play. After a commanding start from the Stanford men, the flood gates opened, and goal-after-goal piled on until the U.S. was up 7-1. Canada attempted to rally but proved no match for Bowen, Hallock and the rest of the star-studded American team.
“That first half was a testament to how close we are as a team — to fight the whole way through,” Bowen said in a post game interview with Swimming World Magazine. “We played really well, and I loved it.”
Similarly to the Cardinal women, Bowen and Hallock will likely be chosen to represent Team USA in Tokyo, which would mark their second Olympic appearance after participating in the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Back at Stanford, the men’s water polo season is set to open on Sept. 7 with the Navy Invite in Annapolis, Maryland. The women’s team, reigning national champions, are not in season until the spring.
Contact Cybele Zhang at cybelez ‘at’ stanford.edu.