The CSUN women’s water polo team saved its best for last, pulling off two upsets in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Tournament over the weekend at the Aztec Aquaplex on the campus of San Diego State University.
After losing their first game to Arizona State University 10-8 on Friday, the Matadors beat Long Beach State 8-7 on Saturday and UC Irvine 7-6 on Sunday.
“We’ve never won two games in the conference tournament and we’ve never beat Long Beach State,” said senior Allison Brookes, who played her last game for CSUN. “To go out and end the season and my whole four years this way is incredible.”
The Matadors entered the tournament as the 11th seed and ranked 15th in the nation. Thirteen teams competed in the tournament, which ran from April 24 – 27.
Northridge lost its first game of the tournament 10-8 against sixth-seeded Arizona State University, despite taking an 8-6 lead into the fourth quarter.
“We’ve never been up by two goals going into the fourth quarter against a team with that ranking,” said head coach Molly Barnes. “We’re not familiar with that position.”
Brookes, Sydney Sonoda and Dayna Van Gorder each had two goals in the match for CSUN. Chelsea Curran and Renee Gargiulo added one goal each. Goalkeeper Jillian Stapf collected 13 saves.
For the Sun Devils, Trici Aparcio, Addison McGrath and Bonnie Miles each scored three goals, while Kelly Phelps scored one. ASU goalie Caylinn Wallace made eight saves in the match.
Arizona scored three goals in the first period before the Matadors got on the board with less than a minute left in the period. Northridge outscored ASU 4-2 in the second quarter, tying the score at 5-5 going into the break.
The Matadors outscored Arizona 3-1 in the third quarter to take an 8-6 lead. On the verge of an upset, the Sun Devils stepped up their offensive and defensive power, scoring four goals in the fourth while shutting down the CSUN offense, for the 8-6 win.
“We didn’t have enough to pull out the win,” Barnes said. “We would have loved to pull off that upset.”
The loss put CSUN in the consolation bracket with a game on Saturday against 12th-ranked Long Beach State.
Jessica Coy scored a hat trick in the game, as well as delivering the final game-winning goal. Van Gorder scored two goals while Brookes, Curran and Kirra Kylander each added one goal. Stapf came up with 13 saves in the 8-7 win.
For the 49ers, Dayna Wawrzynski, Rachelle Denaro and Lauren Sieprath scored two goals each. Geraldine DiTommaso scored one goal and Kristen Stragier made nine saves in the cage for Long Beach.
The Matadors started the scoring and were ahead 3-0 before Long Beach started its attack. At the end of the first period, the 49ers had closed the gap to 4-3. Long Beach took the lead at 6-5 in the second period, but CSUN came back to tie the game at 6-6 before halftime.
Northridge pulled ahead in the third period, scoring the only goal for the 7-6 lead. Long Beach answered with a goal in the fourth to tie it up at 7-7 with just over two minutes remaining in the period. Coy came to the rescue with just 1:32 left in the game when she put the game-winner in the net for the 8-7 upset.
Barnes said that after getting an early lead, the team let Long Beach back into the game.
“We had a lot of opportunities in that game that we didn’t put away,” Barnes said.
One such opportunity was a 5-meter shot that was missed by Coy and threatened to take her out of her game mentally. The encouragement of teammates and coaches helped Coy rebound, Barnes said.
“She’s a competitor. She was either going to break or get pissed off,” Barnes said. “She ended up nailing an outside shot.”
The Matadors headed into their Sunday game against UC Irvine fueled with emotion. While the team was happy and excited about upsetting Long Beach, they were also dealing with the realization that they were playing their last game together, said Brookes.
“We were talking about it being the last time we’ll ever play together, the last time we’ll ever warm up together,” Brookes said. “It was very emotional.”
After telling each other that they needed to focus and win the game, Brookes said that’s what they did.
“I knew we would be able to win,” Brookes said. “I had a feeling we would be able to pull it through.”
Brookes, Curran and Van Gorder each scored two goals, while Coy added one. Stapf made 10 saves.
For UC Irvine, Kat Plummer scored two, while Angela Briggs, Julia Fancher, Sarah Frost and Jessica Lewis scored one goal. Lauren Machanis made 10 saves.
Early on, it didn’t look like the Matadors would pull through. Although Northridge scored first, the Anteaters scored three unanswered goals to take a 3-1 lead heading into the second period. The Matadors came back in the second and tied the score at 3-3, but Irvine quickly put another goal in to lead 4-3 at halftime.
Both teams traded goals in the third period for a 5-4 Irvine lead going into the fourth quarter. The Anteaters went ahead for an 8-6 lead, but the Matadors were able to score the three goals needed for the win, with Brookes scoring the game-winner.
It was a great way to cap her career, Brookes said.
“It was a really solid finish to the four years. It made the whole season for us,” Brookes said.
A two-time All-American, Brookes was honored as All-MPSF Honorable Mention for the second straight year yesterday.
“That’s a really big honor,” Brookes said. “Not only did we prove ourselves in the MPSF, but to represent Northridge – it’s very cool.”
Barnes said that making the All-MPSF Team is in some ways more prestigious than being an All-American, because there are only 12 votes and coaches can’t vote for their own players.
“It’s very, very elite,” Barnes said.
Brookes ends her career at CSUN as the all-time leading scorer with 222 goals, with 49 of those scored this season.
“Each year her role has changed and she has sacrificed her game for the team,” Barnes said.
Along with Brookes, seniors Van Gorder and Brianna Wilson have also played their last games for CSUN. While Wilson was injured for most of the season, Van Gorder has played big minutes for Northridge and Barnes said there are “big shoes to fill.”
“We’ll have to find a way to fill the void,” Barnes said.
Next year the Matadors will move to the Big West Conference for the inaugural season for water polo in the conference.
“We’re looking forward to moving to the Big West,” Barnes said. “We are looking forward to a more competitive season.