Water Polo: Matadors look ahead to next season

Monique Muñiz

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OVERACHIEVERS: The Matadors were not expected to succeed this season, but they achieved a No. 2 seeding in the Big West Conference Tournament. Photo Credit: Courtesy of CSUN Athletics.

With a team that lost seven seniors and an All-American goaltender from last year’s year squad, this season was not supposed to be as successful, but the Matadors exceeded expectations and finsihed No. 2 in the Big West.

Unfortunately that was short lived as No. 6 Long Beach State upset CSUN in the semifinals at the Big West Tournament in Santa Barbara, California.

With the win within reach to play in the championship game for a second time in two years, the Matadors were called for a five-meter penalty with 1:36 left in regulation, which allowed the 49ers to tie the game and send it into overtime.

Once again CSUN had an opportunity to go ahead in the game when it was awarded a penalty shot in the beginning of the first overtime period, but missed and Long Beach State came back with the winning goal to end the game 7-6 and CSUN’s season.

The Northridge water polo team (21-16, 3-2 in Big West), which had just finished with its best school record at 28-8 in 2010, had a tougher schedule this season in hopes to prepare them for Big West Conference. The Matadors played top-ranked water polo teams such as No. 5 Hawaii, No. 7 San Jose State and No. 10 San Diego State.

Coach Marcelo Leonardi, who was in his first season as official head coach this year, wanted a tougher schedule in hopes to prepare the team for the NCAA Tournament that the Matadors were eligible to play this season.

Offensively, the Matadors tallied 361 goals. Leading Northridge was the conference’s No. 1 scorer Whitney Delgado, who had 76 goals and went ahead in CSUN’s record books by passing former Matador Chari Christopher for second place in career goals with 191.

Where CSUN lacked in its game this season was in defense. After finishing No. 1 in the Big West last season, the Matadors finished last in goals allowed, giving up 326 goals for an average of 8.81 per game.

During this season, one problem Northridge faced was its let down in the third period. For most of the beginning of the season, the Matadors struggled to have solid play in the third, where they allowed a total of 123 goals alone.

At home, CSUN could not be stopped as it went 9-0 at Matador Pool. It was at home where the Matadors started their conference play.

Going into Big West play, the team started on fire by going 3-0, but failed to capitalize over defending champs UC Irvine. With just one game to play in the season, CSUN had a chance to clinch a co-championship at the least, but the Matadors lost their last conference game to the 49ers for the second time this season, 11-8.

One thing Leonardi added to CSUN’s roster was ten freshmen. Two immediate impacts on the team were attackers Melissa Doll and Lindsy Nelson, both started for the Matadors and together they collected 75 goals and 76 assists.

The Matadors just signed three more freshmen to add to the team in Kelcie Ferreira, Kiernan Davis and Alex Hoetker. Also coming back is offensive threat Delgado and defensive two-meter player Heidi Pettinger.

CSUN loses four seniors and one being Sydney Sonoda, who was third in scoring for the Matadors with 53 goals. Sonoda ends her Matador career in fifth place in goals with 142 and eighth in steals with 101.

“I am proud of each and every girl on this team. Being the senior captain, I was proud of how hard we worked, but it just wasn’t our time to advance into the championship game,” Sonoda said. “The girls next year will remember the position we were in and hopefully take it next year.”