The women’s water polo team started off the season Sunday with two victories at the Cal State Bakersfield Tournament, knocking off the host Runners 13-7 and Fresno Pacific 18-2.
Ranked 18th in preseason polls, the Matadors had 15 different players score in the two-game tournament.
Junior Jessica Coy, sophomore Kristin McLaughlin and senior Allison Brookes led the offensive attack in the first game of the day against Cal State Bakersfield, with each scoring three goals. Sophomore Kirra Kylander added two goals, while senior Dayna Van Gorder and sophomore Chelsea Curran scored one each.
“It was a balanced attack,” said head coach Molly Barnes, who also praised her team’s defensive play. “We were in foul trouble the entire game. We had four players with two fouls.”
Barnes said this year’s team plays at a higher tempo and has a hard and fast offense.
“We were able to beat Bakersfield off our counterattack,” Barnes said.
For Bakersfield, junior Amanda Ortiz led the Runners with three goals and sophomore Becky Seelos scored two. Junior Petra Koudelkova and sophomore Brittney Berry each scored one goal in the game.
Barnes said Bakersfield is “a pretty solid team” and called Ortiz one of the best players in the conference.
“She’s a handful,” Barnes said. “She lit us up last year. She’s underrated.”
CSUN led 3-1 in the first period and increased its lead to 6-3 at the end of the second period. The Runners outscored the Matadors 4-3 in the third period, but CSUN scored four unanswered goals in the final period for the 13-7 win.
In the second game of the day, the Matadors easily beat newbie Fresno Pacific, a team competing in women’s water polo for the first time in the school’s history.
Freshman Courtney Hudgins led the Matadors with three goals, while sophomore Bethany Scamara, Brookes and junior Tara McGinley each chipped in two goals. Junior Devin Sloan, sophomore Alexis Gackstetter, Coy, senior Brianna Wilson, sophomore Renee Gargiulo, junior Erica Waltemade and freshman Sydney Sonoda all got on the board with one goal each.
For the Fresno Pacific Sunbirds, sophomore Borbala Toth and freshman Brittney Gurrero scored one goal each.
The Matadors jumped out to a 6-2 lead in the first period, with Fresno Pacific scoring their only goals in the first period. CSUN continued to score, however, adding 12 more goals for the 18-2 win.
“It’s a great start,” Barnes said. “We’re happy with the way we played.”
The Matadors returned the majority of their players this year and Barnes said the team has the potential to do better than their ranking indicates.
“It’s really hard to get respect,” Barnes said. “We’ve got to play at a high level for consecutive games.”
Last year the team ended the season ranked 11th, with Brookes earning an All-American honorable mention for the second year in a row, as well as an All-Mountain Pacific Sports Federation honorable mention. Brookes was the team’s scoring leader in 2007, finishing the season with 62 goals and 46 assists.
Although the team’s second leading scorer, Christine Cruz, quit the team, the Matadors have Van Gorder, third in scoring last year with 52 goals and 41 assists.
Barnes is particularly happy with the improvements made by the sophomores, including goalie Jillian Stapf.
“The sophomore class has really picked up their game,” Barnes said. “Jill is getting much better than last year.”
Stapf started all 35 games last season and made 348 saves. She is the first Matador to earn MPSF Player of the Week honors and she scored a goal from her position as goalkeeper during a game last season. Stapf was also named to the MPSF All-Freshman team last season.
Barnes said CSUN is always the underdog and the team is out to prove a point this season.
“Our goal is to get some big wins,” Barnes said.
The Matadors head south this weekend for the Triton Invitational on Saturday and Sunday at UC San Diego. The 16-team tournament features 11 nationally ranked teams, with each team playing two games each day. The championship will be held at 5 p.m. on Sunday between the two remaining undefeated squads.
First up in the tournament for CSUN will be No. 19 Santa Clara on Saturday at 10:15 a.m., followed by a game against either No. 20 Maryland or No. 6 San Diego State later in the day.
Barnes said the Matadors are in a tough bracket for the tournament.
“Santa Clara – that will be a good game,” Barnes said. “They’re structured and disciplined.”