With a record 19 medals, Australia will finish 15th on the medal tally with four gold, three silver and twelve bronze, the best result from an Australian team in 23 editions of the World University Games.
Western Australian goalkeeper Lilian Hedges starred as the Uniroos beat Canada 6-3 to claim their first ever University Games title.
The previous best finish by the women’s water polo team at the Universiade is fifth, achieved in 2009, 2011 and 2013.
With few scoring opportunities throughout the encounter, and with scores tied 3-3 at full time the game was sent to a penalty shootout. With Australia scoring on three occasions, Hedges saved all three of Canada’s attempts to secure the gold medal.
From its commencement the game had been a defensive arm wrestle with limited scoring opportunities and superb defending at both ends, the score line at full time more akin to a football game than water polo.
That changed in the shootout, with Canada unable to find the net and Australia poised under the pressure of the decider.
Australia coach Eddie Denis praised his team, saying that after spending limited time together in the lead up, they had steadily improved as the tournament went on.
“Today was a very good result for a team that came together at just the beginning of this tournament,” Dennis said.
“Our defence got better each game and we dealt with the challenges of each game as a team.
“Today was a struggle in attack, but our defence was great. Penalties are never easy, but our shooters stood up and Lil Hedges in goals was superb.
“Undefeated in the tournament is a nice feeling.”
It took more than three minutes for the first goal to be registered and pleasingly for the Uniroos it was Queenslander Tiana Anderson opening the account. Canada hit back a little more than a minute later, the score remaining 1-1 at quarter time.
It was an equally tough second quarter as both teams continued to display defensive astuteness. While Hedges made tough saves for the Uniroos it was Canada who broke the deadlock to lead 2-1 at half time.
Another Queenslander put Australia back on an equal footing with Canada in the third term, Ellodie Ruffin making the most of a pass from Uniroos captain Isobel Bishop. However the next six minutes of play shed no more light on who might win gold, the score remaining 2-2 at the final break.
Canada broke the stalemate first in the final period with a shot that ricocheted off the post and past Hedges to move them into the lead, however Anderson soon responded with her second goal for the Uniroos, locking the game at 3-3 and sending it to penalties.
It was Australia who grabbed the limelight during the shootout; Hedges impeccable in goals, while Jessica Zimmerman, Lena Mihailovic and Ruffin all converted to hand the Uniroos their first gold medal.
An ecstatic Anderson said that the team pulled together after a tough start to secure the winning result, in what was a stirring moment for the whole team.
“We started off a bit shaky with our shooting, but our defence got us over the line,” Anderson said.
“Knowing we all had each other’s backs helped us put those final shots away. We are so unbelievably excited and happy to achieve something that no other Australian women’s university team has done before.
“Gold in Gwangju, enough said.”
In the bronze medal match, Russia was too strong for Italy 13-7.
While the World University Games may have concluded on a winning note, the core of this team will continue on to next month’s FINA World Junior Women’s Water Polo Championships in Merida, Mexico where they will hope to emulate the success of Gwangju.
Uniroos Women’s Water Polo Team:
Tiana Anderson (Griffith University, Gold Coast), Elle Armit (Queensland University of Technology), Tyler Baillie (Queensland University of Technology), Julia Barton (University of Newcastle), Isobel Bishop (University of Technology Sydney), Pascalle Casey (Macquarie University), Lilian Hedges (University of Western Australia), Lena Mihailovic (Arizona State University), Montana Perkins (University of Newcastle), Ellodie Ruffin (Australian Catholic University), Madeleine Steere (University of Melbourne), Fiona Walsh (University of NSW), Jessica Zimmerman (Curtin University of Technology)
Coach: Eddie Denis; Assistant Coach: Jan Vos; Team Leader: Laura Domenicucci; Physio: Kate Moore
In other events on the final day of competition for the Uniroos ahead of Tuesday’s closing ceremony, the men’s scored an easy win against Japan, 16-8, to finish seventh overall. Following a fifth place finish for the Emerging Opal’s the Emerging Boomer went down 81-72 to Serbia to finish tenth.
With thanks to Water Polo Australia
The 2015 World University Games conclude Tuesday with the closing ceremony.