Big West water polo tournament: Matadors say, bring on whomever

Monique Muñiz

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In last year’s Big West Tournament semifinals matchup between CSUN-UCSB, the top-seed Matadors went in expecting to cruise past the 4-seed Gauchos. The excessively confident Matadors ended up losing 6-5 and had their Big West championship aspirations vanished.

“It was a huge heartbreaker, the whole season we had been beating (UCSB) and going into the tournament I think we felt really confident that we were going to play Santa Barbara and beat them,” attacker Whitney Delgado said. “Then we lost and everyone was in shock and angry because it shouldn’t have happened.”

This season No. 2 seed Northridge find themselves in a similar situation heading into the conference tournament, as they await the winner of the UCSB-Long Beach State first round match on Friday.

If there is a rematch of CSUN-UCSB both team will be looking for revenge, CSUN does not want to feel the disappointment of last year’s defeat and Santa Barbara does not want to feel the humiliation CSUN left them this season when the Matadors won at the Gauchos home pool on their senior day (April 10).

“It almost going to be like payback or revenge,” goalie Jillian Stapf said. “Santa Barbara has always been a rivalry for us and we definitely don’t want to lose to them and not for a second time,”

This season the Matadors beat Santa Barbara (17-10, 3-2 Big West) in a close game 7-6, where CSUN won with 20 seconds left in the game with a goal from Delgado. CSUN had to battle back every time the Gauchos scored.

If the Matadors match up against Long Beach State (8-19, 0-5 Big West) they are faced with being the underdogs since the tournament will be held at the 49ers pool in front of their fans.

“We played them (Long Beach State) and beat them in the beginning of conference and they came out strong,” Delgado said. “With them being at home it will definitely  be more of a challenge for us to face.”

In CSUN’s conference opener they faced Long Beach State where they won 11-4. The beginning of the game Long Beach took a 3-0 lead, but after that the Matadors relaxed and exploded on their offense to score 11 goals while holding the 49ers to one more goal in the game.

The Matadors go into the tournament with a 27-7 season record and 4-1 in Big West Tournament Conference. The team needs to be on top of their defense that has combined 287 steals, 58 field blocks and has allowed 216 goals by their opponents. All-American goalie Stapf and junior Nicole Concialdi combined for 342 saves and played 1103 minutes.

With a solid defensive play by CSUN the offense fed off that and exploded on the opponents end with 439 goals, 325 assist and 273 kick outs.

Any match up that the Matadors face should be a challenge, but they aren’t changing their approach to their game.

“We are focusing on what we need to do,” head coach Marcelo Leonardi said. “Nothing is going to change, everything we have done so far that’s gotten us here is what we are going to work on.”