Four Newport Beach girls' water polo players went to Argentina this week to compete in the UANA Youth Pan American Championships.
In terms of experience, the "youth" part certainly rang true. For three of them, it was their first international water polo tournament, first time representing their country on the world stage.
Yet Mater Dei High incoming senior Brianna Daboub, Corona del Mar incoming sophomore Maddie Musselman and Newport Harbor incoming juniors Rachel Whitelegge and Carlee Kapana all rose to the challenge in the end.
As a result, they got an experience on Saturday that they'll never forget. They also got gold medals.
Daboub scored three goals and Musselman added one as the U.S. Youth Women's National Team defeated Canada, 10-6, to win the championship in Buenos Aires.
Each girl played her part. Whitelegge played shutdown defense, much of it at two meters. And Kapana went the whole way in goal, making 13 saves.
It was a sweet victory for Kapana, the only local with previous international experience. Two years ago at the Youth Pan American Championships in Puerto Rico, she helped Team USA earn silver. The reason that medal wasn't gold was because the U.S. lost the title match to the same Canadian squad, 7-6.
"It feels really good, especially since we beat Canada," Kapana said Saturday in a group telephone interview from Argentina.
Team USA, coached by two-time Olympian Natalie Benson, went 7-0 in the week-long tournament. Saturday's win was the second one over Canada, but both were competitive.
Canada led the United States, 3-2, after a quarter in the championship match, despite goals from Daboub and Musselman. Daboub scored again in the second quarter as the U.S. earned a 5-4 lead.
Team USA also owned the second half.
"We definitely felt the pressure," said Daboub, who had 12 goals in the tournament. "I think Canada was the only team that we were down to in the whole tournament. I guess it was just the fire in our bellies that helped us come back and win. We didn't freak out or anything; we stayed playing as a team and we pulled through.
"We didn't have a second shot at it, you know? It was the second half of the game, and that was it. We've been working together as a team this whole tournament, and we knew we just had to rely on everything we've been working on in practice in the mornings."
Daboub converted a penalty shot that Musselman drew, giving the United States a 6-4 lead after three quarters. Aria Fischer, Sydney Blubaugh and Alexis Angermund then scored successive goals to open the fourth quarter, and the United States was on its way to victory.
The defense, led by Kapana and Whitelegge, was stout as well. Team USA allowed just two goals in the second half.
"It was a lot harder to play defense, because the rules we have back at home for high school and college water polo don't apply here," Whitelegge said. "A lot of the stuff that would normally be a kick-out or an offensive [foul] isn't [in the international game]. You just have to go back to fundamentals, and not get caught up in fighting."
Whitelegge said she had a lot of fun. So did Musselman, the second-youngest player on the team who tallied 13 goals in the tournament. She drew three ejections in the title match, including the one that led to the penalty shot.
"Since it's my first international experience, I felt like it was really fun having some older people around me and playing with me," Musselman said. "I'm kind of used to playing with older people. I learn more when I play with older people. I feel like it's a great learning experience."
It was not easy, but the experience itself was priceless, especially coming against the United States' neighbors to the north.
"There's definitely a rivalry between Canada and the United States, at every level," Daboub said. "That's what made this win that much better."