The Cal State Northridge women’s water polo team closed out its regular season with two wins at Matador Pool on Saturday. The 15th nationally-ranked Matadors cruised to a 12-5 victory against 16th-ranked UC Santa Barbara in the morning, then spent the afternoon defeating ?Cal State San Bernardino 9-6.
The team also honored its three seniors, Allison Brookes, Dayna Van Gorder and Brianna Wilson before the UC Santa Barbara game.
“It was really emotional,” Van Gorder said. “I cried when they were announcing us and I saw my mom and dad. Then I looked around and everyone was crying.”
Head coach Molly Barnes agreed that it was emotional, but she also said that it was a day surrounded with a great atmosphere.
“It was one of those days when, as a coach, you really didn’t have to tell people what to do,” Barnes said. “We clicked on more cyclinders than we have all year.”
Certainly the Matadors seemed to be inspired by their seniors and the atmosphere, as they showed the Gauchos that despite CSUN being just one ranking better on paper, in the pool, the two teams were worlds apart.
“We came out fired-up and ready to play,” said Van Gorder. “Everyone had an amazing game.”
Seven different players scored for the Matadors, in the MPSF match against the Gauchos, with Renee Gargiulo leading the offense with three goals. Brookes, Van Gorder and Jessica Coy each scored two goals, while Wilson, Kirra Kylander, and Sydney Sonoda each added one goal. Goalkeeper Jillian Stapf made 14 saves in the game.
For the Gauchos, Kathryn Nelson, Katie Kepner, Claire Buchanan, Lizzie Rouleau and Christie Clark each scored one goal. Gaucos’ goalie Jenny Gonzales collected nine saves.
Gargiulo was first on the board with a goal at 4:20 in the first period. The Gauchos’ Buchanan tied the score at 3:12, but Brookes put the Matadors back on top with a goal at 2:44. Sonoda scored with 40 seconds left to give CSUN a 3-1 lead at the end of the first period.
The two teams traded goals in the second period, with the Gauchos starting the scoring with a goal by Kepner at 6:43. Brookes scored at 5:51 to bring the score to 4-2, but UCSB closed the gap to 4-3 with a goal by Nelson at 5:29. ?Kylander extended the lead with a goal at 4:15 and the Gauchos answered with a goal by Rouleau at 2:07. Gargiulo scored her second goal of the game with 20 seconds left in the period, giving the Matadors a 6-4 lead at the break.
The second half was all CSUN, with the Matadors outscoring the Gauchos 6-1. Coy scored at 6:49 in the third period and the Gauchos got their only goal of the half by Clark at 5:28. Van Gorder scored at 4:43 and CSUN headed into the fourth period with a 8-5 lead.
The Matadors scored four unanswered goals in the fourth period, starting with Coy’s at 7:17. Gargiulo scored her third of the game at 6:28 and Van Gorder put in her second in at 4:26. Wilson, who has been injured all season and has played limited minutes, finished off the scoring with 35 seconds left for a final score of 12-5.
“It was a sick shot from the five-spot,” Van Gorder said.
At the end of the game, the team jumped in the pool and dog-piled Wilson, Barnes said.
“It was a good ending to a rough year,” Wilson said. “It was a really cool moment.”
In the afternoon game against Cal State San Bernardino, the story wasn’t as much about the goals that were scored, as it was about the ones Stapf turned away. The CSUN goalkeeper tied her career-high with 20 saves in the non-conference match in which she shared time in the goal with Nicole Concialdi, who saved one.
Stapf was rewarded for her performance by being named MPSF Player of the week on Monday, along with ASU’s Addison McGrath.
“She had a good day,” Barnes said. In order for us to be successful, she has to have good games.”
Offensively, Brookes, a two-time All-American, and Chelsea Curran both scored hat tricks in the win. Coy, Van Gorder and Kylander each added one goal
For the Coyotes Freyja Berg and Ashley Hayes each scored three goals in the loss. Hayes played for three seasons as a Matador before transferring to Cal State San Bernardino. Goalkeeper Bryanna Burns made nine saves.
The Matadors jumped out to an early lead in the first period with Brookes opening the scoring at 6:00. Curran scored back-to-back goals at 4:52 and 3:26 for a 3-0 lead. The Coyotes got one back on a goal by Hays at 2:06.
CSUN continued its offensive attack, scoring three consecutive goals before getting an answer from the Coyotes. Brookes scored at 6:48, followed by Van Gorder’s goal at 3:48. Brookes scored her third of the game at 3:01. The Coyotes cut the Matadors’ lead by scoring the next two, with Berg putting one in at 2:18 and Hays at 0:57 to end the half with a CSUN leading 6-3.
The third period was all Northridge, with Curran scoring at 7:47, Coy at 6:41 and Kylander at 2:21. With the lead extended to 9-3, it didn’t look like the Matadors had anything to worry about. But, the Coyotes came back in the fourth with three consecutive, unanswered goals that closed in on the lead. Hays scored at 7:05 and Berg scored back-to-back goals, one at 2:07 and the other with 7 seconds left in the game. Luckily, the Coyotes ran out of time and the Matadors took the win 9-6.
“I wasn’t worried,” Barnes said. “We controlled the game and we had a lot of different people playing in the fourth.”
After the game, the team pushed Barnes and assistant coach Marcelo Leonardi into the pool.
Wilson said Leonardi has been a very inspirational coach and has provided strong direction.
“He’s a good coach outside the water and a strong coach in games,” Van Gorder said.
As for Barnes, both Van Gorder and Wilson called her “a really good woman” and said she has been a great coach and an important mentor.
The Matadors will head out one last time this season, to San Diego State University for the MPSF Tournament at the Aztec Aquaplex. CSUN is seeded 11th in the tournament which starts on Thursday and runs through Saturday.
“We’re looking forward to going to the MPSF (tournament),” Barnes said. “Whoever we face, we will play them tough and maybe pull off an upset.”
The Matadors will face 6th-seeded Arizona State University on Thursday at 12:40 p.m.