CSUN water polo: Matadors watch championship slip away

    Matador goalie Jillian Stapf recorded 11 saves in a losing effort against UC Irvine on Sunday. Photo Credit: Monique Muniz Staff Photographer

    LONG BEACH, Calif. – The entire UC Irvine water polo team, including the coaching staff, celebrated its back-to-back Big West Tournament championship on Sunday by jumping into the pool.

    While the Anteater party was going on, the Matadors huddled up for their final postgame speech of the season with tears running down their faces after losing 12-11.

    “We gave it our all… unfortunately it wasn’t enough,” said Matador goalie Jillian Stapf, who had 11 saves during the Big West title game. “I couldn’t pick one person out that didn’t play as hard as they could. Toward the end we scored two quick goals, but couldn’t find enough time to find the back of the net.”

    With 3:54 left in the fourth quarter and the Anteaters leading 12-9, CSUN had one last push. In a key moment of the match, Matador Whitney Delgado, who had five goals in the game, had a penalty shot blocked with 3:42 remaining. Kristin McLaughlin scored and with seven seconds left, Alison Pierce scored before Northridge’s season ended.

    Going into the game CSUN had one of the top defenses in the Big West but it couldn’t stop the UC Irvine offensive surge in the first quarter. The Anteaters scored five goals in the first, as Northridge started sinking into a hole.

    “I thought we gave up too many goals in the first half and we couldn’t get stops,” head coach Marcelo Leonardi said. “Their (UC Irvine) outside shooting was really good…we made adjustments in the second half, but couldn’t convert when we needed to.”

    CSUN started the scoring with Heidi Pettinger’s goal at 6:38 in the first quarter, but UC Irvine responded scoring four straight goals to give them a 4-1 lead. Delgado scored with 33 seconds left to bring CSUN within two, but with three seconds left in the first, the Anteaters got the goal back to take a 5-2 lead after one quarter of play.

    “We just had a hard time stoppig their skip shots,” Leonardi said. “When you go down by three goals unfortunately you have to use a lot of energy to come back and we fell short.”

    The Matadors kept on battling back after the first quarter and in the second period they jumped on the scoreboard to make it 5-3, then Delgado scored on a power play goal to give CSUN a one-goal deficit of 5-4.

    But the Anteaters kept on the attack to get the two goals back, taking a 7-4 lead. UC Irvine added one more goal, while CSUN came crawling back with three goals of its own to make it a 8-7 Anteater lead at the half.

    “We knew they had a lot of threats and a lot of great outside shooters,” utility player McLaughlin said.

    During the second half, each team had four goals. The third quarter started off with the Matadors tying the game up 8-8, but once again UC Irvine scored two goals to give them a 10-8 lead going into the fourth.

    “Things just didn’t fall our way today,” McLaughlin said. “They (Anteaters) definitely showed up to play and they had some players that single handedly beat us.”

    CSUN ended its season with an overall record of 28-8 and 4-1 in Big West play and No. 11 in the national rankings.