With the Matadors heading into the final stretch of the regular season, they are peaking at the right time as they go on the road this weekend for two crucial Big West games against UC Irvine and Long Beach State.
The first place Cal State Northridge water polo team, which is 3-0 in conference play, has an opportunity to clinch the top seed in the Big West Tournament if it comes up with victories in both games. However, the Matadors cannot think that far ahead as they face a tough No. 10 UC Irvine team on Saturday, which is in second place with a 2-0 conference record.
“It’s a head-to-head battle of the two top dogs (in the Big West) meeting up and from last year, a few of our older players may be holding a little grudge,” said junior Whitney Delgado, referring to the Matadors’ loss to the Anteaters in last season’s conference championship game.
Northridge, which is on a seven-game winning streak, will face UC Irvine for the first time this season. The Anteaters are on a two-game winning streak with their last lostscoming against Stanford, 13-4.
“We have film and know their (UCI) tendency, but at this point, it is cleaning certain aspects of our game from the previous Big West games and matchups,” said coach Marcelo Leonardi. “They are well coached and fundamentally sound. They don’t beat themselves very much, but at the same time there are aspects of their game that I think we can capitalize on.
“At this point of the season every team should be playing its best water polo and I feel that we are starting to do that,” Leonardi said.
The Anteaters’ offensive weapons are sophomore Jessy Cardey with 38 goals and freshman Danielle Warde with 39 goals.
“Heidi (Pettinger) and Jessica (Goforth) are going to have to do a good job on (Danielle) Warde and Jessy (Cardey) is a fantastic shooter and attacker. We are going to have to keep someone in front of her the whole time, I don’t think we will be able to stop her, but hopefully put enough pressure on her that she gets out of her comfort zone,” Leonardi said.
Leonardi believes that in order for the Matadors to reach the championships, they need to win their first game against UCI.
“The bottom line is that the last two years, (UC) Irvine has either won the tournament championship or has been co-champs and they have always been there in the end, I feel that to put ourselves in the position to win a championship we have to go through Irvine,” Leonardi said.
CSUN (21-11) is not taking anything lightly in their last game Sunday, as they will face No. 13 Long Beach State to end the regular season.
The Matadors and 49ers faced each other on Feb. 13 in what resulted in a 10-7 Northridge loss, but Leonardi said that can be an advantage for Northridge.
“By being able to play a team we played before we know what to expect and we have the film and we can prep for them,” Leonardi said. “There is no excuse, it’s one team versus another and whoever plays the best water polo will win that game.”
The 49ers have hit a bump on the road with three straight losses to opponents that included Hartwick, Pacific (5-3) and an overtime loss to UC Davis, 9-7.
“They have been playing well all season and then these past few games that they lost were a surprise to us,” said Delgado, who leads the team in Big West scoring with 70 goals. “It has always been said that you don’t know what is going to happen, we just need to be prepared.”
The Matadors have Delgado along with Pettinger (56 goals) and Sydney Sonoda (48 goals) as the primary offensive threats and in the net will be Dana Harvey, who has 162 saves in 18 games. Harvey’s last game in goal, she recorded 15 saves in the victory against UCSB.
“I feel we are in a good position because we are 3-0. We are still hungry and we want to win a championship,” Leonardi said.
Game Notes: UC Irvine has won 13 of 17 against the Matadors. The two teams have split the last six matchups.