2022 World Champs: U.S. women’s water polo team aims for four-peat

U.S. water polo player Maggie Steffens looks to make a pass during a game at the 2022 World Championships
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The U.S. women’s water polo team’s world title defense is off to a strong start.

On Monday, the first day of women’s water polo action at the 2022 World Championships in Hungary, the Americans opened group play with a 24-2 win over South Africa.

The three-time defending world champions will face a tougher test against Netherlands today. The winner of the game is likely to clinch the top spot in the group and earn a bye to the quarterfinal round.

The 2022 U.S. women’s water polo team is headlined by three-time Olympic gold medalist Maggie Steffens, who was also a member of the last three world title-winning teams (2015, 2017, 2019).

Steffens is joined by six other members of last summer’s Olympic team — Ashleigh Johnson, Maddie Musselman, Rachel Fattal, Stephania Haralabidis, Kaleigh Gilchrist and Amanda Longan — plus Jordan Raney, who won a world title in 2019, but was the last athlete cut from the 2021 Olympic team. The 13-member squad also includes five world championship rookies: Tara Prentice, Ava Johnson, Ryann Neushul, Denise Mammolito and Bayley Weber.

Adam Krikorian, U.S. head coach since 2009, leads the team.

2022 World Aquatics Championships — U.S. Women’s Water Polo Schedule:

For viewers in the United States, games are being streamed via the FINA facebook page: facebook.com/fina1908. The U.S. women have two group play games remaining:

  • June 22: USA vs. Netherlands (1:30pm ET)
  • June 24: USA vs. Argentina (12pm ET)

At the conclusion of group play, the top team in each group will receive a bye to the quarterfinals. The second- and third-ranked teams will compete in a crossover playoff round to determine four remaining quarterfinalists.

The women’s water polo playoff schedule is as follows:

  • June 26: Crossover round
  • June 28: Quarterfinals
  • June 30: Semifinals
  • July 2: Championship Game

A full tournament schedule can be found here.

While the U.S. is favored to the 2022 world title, Spain — which finished as runner-up in 2017 and 2019, in addition to claiming silver at last year’s Tokyo Olympics — could challenge the Americans for gold.

Other top teams include host Hungary (fresh off Olympic bronze in 2021), Australia (2019 world bronze medalist), and the Netherlands (a longtime powerhouse currently in a rebuilding phase).

Three countries — Argentina, Colombia, and Thailand — are making their debut in women’s water polo at this year’s World Championships. Colombia and Thailand both received wild card entries from FINA after Russia and Belarus were barred from competing at this year’s event.

A few fast facts about the dominance of the U.S. women’s water polo team:

  • The U.S. owns six world titles in women’s water polo, three times as many as any other nation (Italy and Hungary both have two).
  • The U.S. hasn’t lost a world championship game since 2015, when the Americans dropped a group play game to Italy 10-5.
  • The U.S. hasn’t lost a world championship playoff game since 2013, when the Americans fell to Spain 6-9 in the quarterfinal round.

Follow Alex Azzi on Twitter @AlexAzziNBC