Their captain had a bloody nose. Their goalkeeper was letting in some uncharacteristically soft goals. And with two minutes left in the third quarter, the powerhouse U.S. water polo women were tied with China 6-6.
Then the switch abruptly flipped.
Paige Hauschild, Aria Fischer and Makenzie Fischer scored in the last two minutes of a third quarter that had been scoreless to that point, and Makenzie Fischer scored her third goal less than a minute into the fourth quarter to give the U.S. a 10-6 lead on its way to a 12-7 win.
Makenzie Fischer led the team with three goals, Rachel Fattal had two and all but one of the U.S. team's non-goalkeepers scored one. That included Steffens, who shook off a bloody nose suffered in the game's opening moments to continue her push toward the all-time Olympic scoring record with the 43rd tally of her career, four short of the mark held by Italy's Tania Di Mario.
Goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson, the MVP of the 2019 World Championships and the goalkeeper of the tournament in the 2016 Olympics, let in the first four shots that she faced, a couple of them on shots she would normally swat away with ease. She didn't register a save in the first 10 minutes of the game but slammed the door in the second half in a seven-save performance.
The U.S. women lead their group with a 2-0 record and will next face Hungary, which conceded a goal with seven seconds left in a 10-10 tie with the ROC in the second game of the day, on Wednesday. The ROC is second in the group with a win and a tie. Hungary has played only once.
In Group A, Australia outscored the Netherlands 5-2 in the fourth quarter to break open a tie game and win 15-12 to share the lead in the group with Spain, which beat Canada 14-10.