Australia and the United States have announced their rosters ahead of their four-game series in Perth and Brisbane over the next week.
It will be the first time we have seen the Aussie Stingers in action since the World League Super Finals in Tenerife in November, while Team USA will be slightly more match-sharp, having hosted a test series with Italy and Spain in Long Beach just before the Christmas recess.
There is mutual respect and healthy competition between the two countries. The two teams are well-known for playing in the first-ever Olympic gold medal match at the 2000 Summer Games in Sydney. That game, which Australia won 4-3 with a goal in the final seconds, is widely regarded as the greatest in the history of women’s water polo.
Spectators will hope that the same level of competition will be on offer over the coming days, with three games taking place in Perth, and the final game taking place 4,300km east in Brisbane.
In terms of team news, both sides feature a mix of experience and youth.
The addition of 2022 Total Player Award winner Maddie Musselman gives Team USA a boost (if not a sigh of relief). Ashleigh Johnson, Maggie Steffens, Amanda Longan and Rachel Fattal provide the experience, alongside three world champions from Budapest – Tara Prentice, Jordan Raney and Denise Mammolito – who are all included.
Jovana Sekulic retains her place in the squad after impressing in Long Beach. Four players in the squad; Ausmus, Stryker, Gazzaniga, and Bonaguidi, weren’t even born at the time of the infamous gold medal match in Sydney in 2000.
Several players that featured for Adam Krikorian’s team in Long Beach are absent due to collegiate commitments, including Jewel Roemer, Ryan Neushul, Bayley Weber, Jenna Flynn, Ella Woodhead and Emma Lineback.
As for the Stingers, Paul Oberman has named an 18-strong squad for these games.
They are boosted by the return of Tokyo Olympian and former player of Plebiscito Padova, Elle Armit. Former Stanford, Mataro and Sant Andreu centre, Dani Jackovic is also called-up.
Zoe Arancini will continue to captain the side; six others – Fasala, Ballesty, Leeson-Smith, Oberman, Longman and Hearn – all guaranteed a sixth place finish for Australia at the World League Super Finals in Tenerife.
While Pascalle Casey is afforded the opportunity to represent her country instead of staying with Panionios in Greece, many leading players for the Stingers, such as Bronte Halligan, Abby and Charlize Andrews, Gabi Palm and Amy Ridge are required to stay and fulfil their club commitments in Europe. Tilly Kearns and Ruby Swadling both are occupied in the US with USC and Cal Bears respectively.
11th January, 11am, United States vs Australia (Perth)
13th January, 12:30pm United States vs Australia (Perth)
15th January, 11am United States vs Australia (Perth)
19th January, 9am, United States vs Australia (Brisbane)
Team USA squad
Ashleigh Johnson, Maddie Musselman, Tara Prentice, Rachel Fattal, Jovana Sekulic, Maggie Steffens, Emily Ausmus, Ava Stryker, Denise Mammolito, Rachel Gazzaniga, Julia Bonaguidi, Jordan Raney, Amanda Longan
Aussie Stingers squad
Zoe Arancini, Elle Armit, Hayley Ballesty, Pascalle Casey, Claire Durston, Jessica Emerson, Tenealle Fasala, Lilian Hedges, Sienna Hearn, Dani Jackovich, Bridget Lesson-Smith, Genevieve Longman, Brooke McClean, Sophie Miliken, Jamie Oberman, Pippa Pedley, Sofie Pontre, Maddy Steere