The CSUN women’s water polo team saved their best for last, closing out season play by upsetting the No. 13 UC Santa Barbara Gauchos 6-5 on Saturday. The Matadors also beat CSU Monterey Bay 14-5 later in the day in the mini-tournament hosted by Santa Barbara at the Campus Pool.
“This is the biggest win we’ve had in the program, obviously all year, but even in the last two years,” head coach Molly Barnes said. “It’s the biggest win we’ve had since ’05.”
For the Matadors, junior Christine Cruz led all scorers with three goals, including CSUN’s first goal of the game and an all-important final CSUN goal.
“The first one she had really kind of got us on the board and that last one put a stamp on the win,” Barnes said. “That was huge.”
Cruz said she knew that she had done exactly what she needed to do after she scored the goal.
“I’m ecstatic,” Cruz said. “After I made the goal my heart was beating so fast I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I was so excited.
Also scoring for CSUN were junior Dayna Van Gorder with two goals and junior Allison Brookes, who scored one. Freshman goalkeeper Jillian Stapf had a career-high 20 saves in the game.
“Everyone came to play and every goal we scored was clutch,” Van Gorder said.
Van Gorder added that she was “absolutely thrilled” with the win and the way that the team came together.
For Santa Barbara, sophomore Gillian Morgan scored two goals, while freshman Christie Clark and senior Sarah Kovach each scored one. Junior goalkeeper Jenny Gonzales made eight saves in the game.
The game started slowly for both teams, with six minutes ticking off the clock before the Gauchos scored first on a goal by Morgan. The first quarter ended with a 1-0 Santa Barbara lead. In the second quarter, Santa Barbara’s Kovach scored back-to-back goals to put the Gauchos up 3-0 with 4:34 left in the quarter. CSUN took a timeout and a minute later Cruz put the ball in the net and got the Matadors on the board. Van Gorder quickly followed with a goal that put CSUN within one at 3-2. Brookes tied the score at 3-3 with 2:07 left in the half.
The third quarter looked like a repeat of the first, with neither team scoring for almost six minutes. Van Gorder broke the tie and put the Matadors up with her goal at 2:07 left in the quarter.
The Gauchos continued to shoot, but Stapf saved a shot by Clark and another Gaucho shot hit the post, leaving CSUN in the lead 4-3 at the end of the third quarter. In the fourth quarter more than four minutes passed before a goal was scored, despite attempts by both teams.
CSUN freshman Chelsea Curran started the quarter with a shot that went wide right. Santa Barbara came back firing, with three successive shots from Morgan: one that hit the post, one that went over the top of the goal, and one that was saved by Stapf.
Clark also had a shot denied by Stapf before she scored on a breakaway that tied the game 4-4. CSUN’s Cruz immediately answered with a goal that put the Matadors back in the lead at 5-4. With 1:17 left in the game, Cruz scored another goal that sealed it for CSUN, giving the Matadors a 6-4 lead. The Gauchos didn’t give up, however, and with only nine seconds left; Morgan put one in the net to get the Gauchos within one at 6-5.
A turnover by the Matadors almost proved disastrous, as the Gaucho’s were able to get off a last second shot that sailed towards the goal, but was just wide, hitting the post. The Matadors held on for the upset and a second conference win.
“Cruz got a clutch goal with an assist from (Jessica) Coy when we needed a goal so bad,” Barnes said. “Then, we went pure defense with our lineup.”
Barnes said she wasn’t sure that the team would be able to overcome the 3-0 deficit in the second quarter, but her team “showed a lot of heart.”
“I can’t say enough about the way they all played,” said Barnes. “They played well.”
The Matadors continued the day on a positive note, beating CSU Monterey Bay 14-5 later that afternoon. CSUN was initially scheduled to play Chapman for its second game of the mini-tournament, but a change in the schedule put the Matadors up against the Division II Sea Otters.
Van Gorder and Cruz led the CSUN offense with three goals each. Coy and Brookes each scored two goals, while freshmen Renee Gargiulo and Kirra Kylander, sophomore Melissa Mendoza and senior Jennifer Macdonell each scored one goal.
Junior Chelsea Laning led the Sea Otters with four goals and senior Samara Phillips scored one.
Gargiulo started the scoring for the Matadors just a minute and a half into the first period. A goal by Coy a couple of minutes later put CSUN ahead 2-0. Monterey Bay’s Laning scored her first goal of the game just 12 seconds later to put the Sea Otters within one at 2-1.
CSUN responded with shots by Brookes and Curran, but junior goalkeeper Jenna Beer saved both. With under a minute left in the first quarter, Phillips scored to tie the score at 2-2. Van Gorder quickly put the Matadors back on top 3-2, scoring her goal with 35 seconds left in the quarter.
Monterey Bay junior Sarah Burke had an open shot on Stapf early in the second quarter, but Stapf knocked it out of the goal to preserve the CSUN lead. Gargiulo took a shot that was denied by Beer, but Cruz was able to put one in the back of the net on the next possession for a 4-2 lead.
Stapf had another save when Monterey Bay junior Christy Thompson lobbed a shot over Stapf’s head, but she reached back and saved it. Van Gorder skipped a shot off the water and into the back of the net for a 5-2 lead with three and a half minutes left in the quarter. Cruz followed up with a quick turn and shot to make it a 6-2 lead for CSUN. Kylander scored with just over two minutes left and Van Gorder with just over thirty seconds left in the quarter. Coy launched a long shot with four seconds left and scored for a 9-2 lead at the half.
Brookes scored quickly in the third with a shot to the upper right corner of the goal. Three minutes later Laning scored for the Sea Otters, bringing the score to 10-3.
CSUN’s Cruz scored on the next possession and Brookes scored her second of the game just two minutes later to bring the score to 12-3. MacDonell took a shot that hit the top of the post, but shot again 20 seconds later and scored for a 13-3 Matador lead. Mendoza scored the first goal of the fourth quarter to put CSUN up 14-3. Laning scored with 2:45 left in the game and again with just 36 seconds left for a final score of 13-5.
“From the beginning to now we’ve definitely grown,” assistant coach Marcelo Leonardi said. “Not only maximizing our talent, but our freshman have definitely stepped up and have finally got to the point where they are mature players – mature in the water. And, our chemistry is on.”
Leonardi said that while defense keeps CSUN in almost every game, the team is also scoring goals.
“Depth is helping us win games,” Leonardi said. Three players, Brookes, Cruz and Van Gorder are breaking 50 goals this season – a first for the program Leonardi said.
Barnes, who has been talking about the need for her team to “get over the hump” all season, said the team has accomplished that.
“Our team just really grew up, I think. And, we finally just got over the hump,” Barnes said.
The team will head to Tempe, Ariz. to compete as the 11th seed in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Water Polo Championships from April 26-29. CSUN will play San Jose State at 12:40 at the Mona Plummer Aquatic Center at Arizona State University.