Jan. 23, 2009
Northridge, Calif. - Veteran women's water polo head coach Molly Barnes quickly scans the 2009 Cal State Northridge roster, and she likes what direction the program is heading. It's continuing to head in the right direction as one of the top programs in the country.
Cal State Northridge, only in its eighth year of existence, has been nationally-ranked the past couple years, and this year will be no exception.
There is also an air of excitement as the Big West Conference has established sponsorship of women's water polo. Because of the return of several top goal scorers from a year ago, and the return of one of the top goalkeepers in the country, look for the Matadors to be a prime candidate to earn league championship honors.
"Realistically, the team could win the conference," said Barnes. "This is the first time we will have the opportunity to win the conference. It will fun and interesting to play in a league championship tournament environment where you will be playing for something (the league title) as opposed to playing in the losers bracket."
Although there is an abundance of talent returning in 2009, Barnes offers a reminder that much work is needed to make the dreams of a successful season a reality.
"We will be a more balanced scoring team this year," said Barnes, who did lose all-time leading scorer Alison Brookes to graduation in 2008. The Matadors also lost the services of defensive standout Dayna Van Gorder, who also earned her academic degree in 2008 along with Brookes.
Brookes' reputation as one of the top collegiate scorers will be sorely missed along with the Van Gorder's contributions. Both players were offensive standouts, but their defensive contributions will also be missed.
"That is a concern, defense," stated Barnes. "Alison (Brookes) and Dayna (Van Gorder) provided outstanding offensive contributions, but their defensive abilities will be sorely missed as well."
Defensively, stopping the opposition at two-meters will be a concern. Size, strength and height will not be in abundance, according to Barnes. "Allison was 6-foot-1, and Dayna was 5-foot-11. Those two girls could guard All-American type players in front of the net."
Junior Kristin McLaughlin and freshman Heidi Pettinger will be put to the test at two-meters. Pettinger is a young player who will develop into an excellent player, according to Barnes. McLaughlin will be playing out of position at two-meters, but will be an effective player, according to Barnes. There is also solid defensive standouts including veterans Renee Gargiulo and Jessica Coy.
The last line of Matador defense will be covered in the nets by junior goalkeeper Jillian Stapf, who has clearly established herself as one of the top players in the country.
At some point during the 2009 season, Stapf will set a school record for career saves. In her two previous seasons, Stapf has tallied 623 career saves, only 138 saves short of the school record.
"Jill is the best goalkeeper in the conference, and definitely one of the best in the country," said Barnes. "Jillian has great size and covers a lot of ground. She needs to be more consistent, but at the same time we need to establish a solid line of defense in front of her. We're capable of being a very good team as long as Jill is having a good game."
Stapf gained Honorable Mention All-American honors last year in chalking up 287 saves, third-best for a single season in school history. Her season saves included a career-high 20 against Cal State San Bernardino.
Nicole Concialdi, a sophomore, will be the team's reserve goalie, and Barnes says she is getting better. "Hopefully, we'll be able to get her more playing time this year."
Cal State Northridge returns six of its top eight scorers from a year ago. Jessica Coy leads the list of scoring returnees. Coy taliled 39 goals, second-best on the Matadors while Chelsea Curran was close behind with 36. Other double-digit scorers included Renee Gargiulo (21), Kirra Kylander (19), Kristin McLaughlin (16) and Sydney Sonoda (10). Tara McGinley (9), Bethany Scamara (5) and Devin Sloan (2) also can provide scoring punch. Scamara, who is also a member of the Matador swim team, will redshirt this season. Other veteran players include Alexis Gackstetter.
"Allison (Brookes) was a dominant scorer the past four years, but with her graduating, we will be a more balanced scoring unit this year," said Barnes. "We'll have more freedom to create shots. Jessica's scoring stats will go up along with Chelsea's scoring totals. Chelsea has the opportunity to not only create scoring opportunities for herself, but for others as well."
Barnes recruited nine freshmen and two junior college transfers so depth will be a key plus in 2009. The list of new names to watch include Whitney Delgado, Heidi Pettinger and Alison Pierce. Delgado has excellent offensive skills while Pettinger and Pierce can play at two-meters (defense). Pettinger was a great two-meter defender in high school while Pierce has the flexibility to play at two-meters (defense) as well as offensively on the perimeter. Pierce was a two-time All-American at American River College (Sacramento area). In 2006 as a freshman at American River, she led the nation with 144 goals. Also look for solid play from freshmen Torrey Kylander and Alyssa Goldie. Other freshman contributors will include Sabrina Anonas, Danielle Berman, Jessica Goforth, Katie Outzen, and Lisa Thompson. Ashley Rogers is a junior college transfer from Ohlone College in northern California.
"Our depth in 2009 is way better than it's ever been," said Barnes. "We have as many as nine players who are ready to play including several freshmen. Our depth will help us this year."
Cal State Northridge opens the 2009 season on Saturday (Jan. 24) at the Michigan Invitational in Ann Arbor ... On Saturday, the Matadors will play San Jose State at 9:30 a.m. followed by a 5:00 p.m. contest against Arizona State ... On Sunday, the Matadors will face Indiana at 9:05 a.m. followed by a 1:25 p.m. game against California ... Cal State Northridge is ranked 14th in the pre-season Collegiate Water Polo Association Pre-Season Top 10 ... USC is ranked #1 followed by Stanford and defending NCAA champion UCLA ... Besides Cal State Northridge, other Big West schools ranked in the pre-season include #9 UC Davis, #13 UC Irvine, #15 Long Beach State, and #17 UC Santa Barbara.