CSUN water polo: Matadors advance to Big West title game

Monique Muñiz

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CSUN head coach Marcelo Leonardi gives his team a few pointers during victory over UCSB in the Big West Tournament Semifinals. Photo Courtesy of Steve Chen / Big West Conference

LONG BEACH, Calif.- In sports there are times where a team gets a chance of revenge over an opponent that shattered their hopes of a championship the year before. In CSUN’s case that came to reality on Saturday in the Big West Tournament semifinals against UC Santa Barbara.

“We knew coming in that we wanted revenge,” said two-meter Heidi Pettinger about the Gauchos, who they lost to in last year’s semifinals. “It was our time to win.”

This time No. 2 seed Northridge (28-7) made sure to be prepared for the Gauchos (18-11), as it won 11-5 and advanced to the conference championship game against UC Irvine.

“The players were more relaxed, as being well prepared with executing on what they wanted to accomplish,” head coach Marcelo Leonardi said.

The first quarter was all CSUN as they took a 2-0 lead with Sydney Sodona and Pettinger scoring. Midway through the second quarter CSUN added two more goals to take a 4-0 lead.
It was then that the Gauchos made a comeback scoring three unanswered goals in the second quarter to make it a 4-3 game at the half.

“I didn’t really feel that we were ever up by just one,” Pettinger said. “We kept calm and cool and added more goals.”

Right from the start of the third quarter CSUN added two goals to give them a 6-3 lead and with less than a minute left it scored two more to take a 8-3 lead.

“Our whole team is peeking right now and this is when we need to,” Pettinger said.

In the last quarter both teams went on a back and fourth scoring run with five straight goals within 1:33 minutes.

It was the Matadors defense that kept them in this game and in the first and third quarters stopped the Gauchos from scoring any goals.

“We did a good job jumping on top 4-0 our defense created our offense,” Leonardi said. “We withstood their run (UC Santa Barbara) then made a run of our own.
We have to give credit to Pettinger guarding two meters, our front court defense and ultimately (goalie) Jillian Stapf.”

Stapf had crucial saves in the game and looked relaxed in goal for the Matadors, as she collected 14 saves in the game.

“I felt really good and knew the runs (the Gauchos) they went on,” Stapf said. “I know my defense is backing me up and the scoring gives me confidence in the cage.”

This was the fourth meeting between these two teams and CSUN won all four games.

Adding to the scoring for CSUN was Chelsea Curran with three, Sodona with two and Whitney Delgado, Kristin McLaughlin, and Rene Gargiulo with one goal each.

“Today we were focused, relaxed and ready to play,” Stapf said. “We just wanted to go out hard and get the win.”
The Matadors championship match against UC Irvine was played on Sunday but the result were not available before press time.