Water Polo: Big West Championship within reach for Matadors
Coach Marcelo Leonadi knew his team would be in the mix in the Big West Conference standings since the beginning of the season. Even though his team has struggled on defense, penalties and solid goaltending, once again the Matadors are in second place going into the tournament.
“We were not expected to perform this well based on all the seniors we lost last year, in terms of the rest of the league and the water polo community, but I knew that from start to finish that achievement gap would close and as a result we are second in conference right now,” said Leonardi, who is in his first full season as head coach.
CSUN’s water polo team (21-14, 3-2 Big West) prepares this weekend for the Big West Conference Tournament in Santa Barbara. Northridge will have to wait for the winner of the No. 3 UCSB (16-11, 3-2 BW) and No. 6 Long Beach State (12-16, 1-4 BW) game on Friday.
Just a year ago, the Matadors, who were Co-Big West Champions at the time, had to wait for the exact same teams to face off against each other in the quarterfinals, which the Gauchos ended up winning and went head-to-head with CSUN in the semifinals. The Matadors went on to win that game and lost in the championship game against UC Irvine.
“It feels the same as last season. I wouldn’t mind going against Long Beach State because we haven’t beat them this season and really want to take it to them, but we’re prepared for whoever we face,” said Heidi Pettinger, who is the second leading scorer on the team with 59 goals.
Leonardi knows it’s not about preparing for who the Matadors will face as it is more important to prepare themselves for Saturday’s semifinal matchup.
“The most important thing is for us to prepare ourselves for the game, the styles of play for both teams (UCSB and LBSU) are similar, they both have good goalies and they both try to take our two-meter game away and stay active on top to create turnovers,” Leonardi said. “This week, it is important for us to prepare ourselves for that semifinal game, it isn’t about who we play, it’s mentally and physically preparing ourselves to play in that game.”
This season the Matadors faced both teams, splitting two with the Gauchos and losing both games to the 49ers.
CSUN isn’t looking at the past results. Once the tournament starts, it is a new beginning and anyone’s game to take.
“It’s a whole new season, everything we have done so far gotten us the second seed, but it doesn’t matter who the better team is. It’s all about one game, your goalie, your defense and offense showing up, whoever shows up wins the game,” Leonardi said.
The last game against Long Beach State, the Matadors didn’t show up, which cost them their second Big West Conference loss 11-8. The Northridge defense that was number one in the conference last season has dropped to last this year, allowing 9.29 goals per game in 35 played.
“Its hard because when we have a slacking defense, our offense has to produce more and we do a really good job at that, but it (offense) would show more if we had a lock down defense and if we were able to make two or three more stops a game, but since our defense has struggled our offense has to keep pushing,” Pettinger said. “We aren’t making up for when we score because then we let the other team score.”
The Matadors know the semifinals are a win or go home situation. They are preparing themselves more than just focusing on the two teams they may face this weekend and the important thing is every player showing up to play.
“We can’t play with just six players, we need all nine to play. I would like more girls to play, but we need the solid nine to play or else we are done,” Pettinger said.