Americans fight off physicality and emotions to sink tough Aussies
In the most entertaining rivalry on water since
The teams have what the esteemed
But there is always a fresh insult, a new twist to the matches between the teams that seem to play as often as those in the American League East. (The semifinal was their 15th match of the year. They even scrimmaged when they reached Beijing, a little Grapefruit League water polo.) After Australia edged China by a goal this week to set-up the U.S. match, Australian coach
"There are no secrets in water polo," said
But neither the physicality --
As an 8-5 U.S. lead dissipated late in the fourth quarter,
"In crucial games she'll take the shots," McFadden said. "She doesn't look much like a water polo player, but she's got the brain, got the skills, and she's got to be rated as one of the best players in the world."
In a sport in which maybe three-quarters of the play is hidden below the surface, Villa is impossible to miss -- and not only because she is a 5-foot-4, 174-pound dark-sinned Latina on a sport that, at least back home, seems to be dominated by lanky California blondes.
There is something counterintuitive about the American captain being an all-world player. She is short. Her arms are not especially long. And while she gets up and down the pool smartly and is built to give as good as she gets in the ritual underwater beatings -- she was the lone American player other than goalie
"Brenda's got skills," teammate
"The water is a great equalizer," Golda said. "You look at other teams across the board and there are a lot of tall girls, but you don't have to be in order to make it far in the sport -- For example in basketball, the taller you are, the longer you are, it's a little easier to play the game. You can dunk the ball or get rebounds. But water polo, we're all about a head tall. Brenda grew up playing against boys, who were obviously taller and faster. She learned the game. Your positioning and intelligence is what separates you from others. You can be 6-8, 250 pounds, but if you've got bricks for hands and can't swim up and down the pool."
Villa can do that, even while being mugged.