This Month in Matador Athletics - June, 2011

June 1, 2011

This Month in Matador Athletics - June, 2011 Get Acrobat Reader

Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations, offers his monthly insights on the accomplishments of the teams, coaches and student-athletes who compete for Cal State Northridge ... The monthly report includes upcoming key games, and a report on what other activities are happening in the CSUN Athletic Department ... This month, "Athletics ends, but your education lasts forever."

As the 2010-11 academic year at Cal State Northridge comes to an end, it's always important to remind ourselves that above all else, a quality education is one of the proud endeavors one endures during his or her lifetime.

At Cal State Northridge, many student-athletes have worked extremely hard both on the field and in the classroom. As one coach reminds us all ... "Athletics ends, but your education lasts forever".

One such example of a true student-athlete is Zitlalic Ley, a steeplechase runner on the Matador track & field team. Ley has taken her academics seriously in addition to her success as a member of the six-time defending Big West Conference CSUN women's track & field team.

Matador Track Star Runs to Success - By Carmen Ramos Chandler, CSUN Public Information
Northridge, Calif. - Zitlalic Ley, who runs the steeplechase for the Cal State Northridge track and field team, stumbled as she landed in the first water jump during a meet nearly three months ago. Before she could get out of the way, a competitor landed on her foot. Ley continued the 3,000-meter race, which includes 35 barriers. She came in third, despite a nagging feeling there was something wrong with her foot.

When she finally looked down, blood was streaming out of her shoe. The spike on the other runner's shoe had slashed her foot above the heel, missing her Achilles tendon by fractions of an inch. She needed 12 stitches to repair the damage.

The team's trainers were stunned that she walked to them for help, let alone that she finished the race. Ley, who also runs cross country for CSUN, shrugged off their concern: "All I could think of was finishing the race and doing the best I could. I was annoyed that I couldn't go as fast as I thought I should."

Ley admitted that even if she knew about the injury, she probably wouldn't have pulled out of the race. Her goal was to finish the race and get a good time. She wanted to qualify for the Big West Conference finals. That was all that mattered. She qualified.

That single-mind focus drives Ley academically as well.

She, her mother, three sisters and a brother legally immigrated to the Los Angeles area from Mexico when Ley was 17. Determined to succeed, Ley, who had already earned a high school diploma in Mexico, enrolled in high school again.

She didn't think her new high school was teaching her English quickly enough, so she decided to take English classes in the evening at adult school. In the meantime, she went out for the cross country team. Despite her grueling schedule, she earned stellar grades at both schools, and her performance in cross country drew the attention of the coach at Glendale Community College.

She adopted a similar regimen at Glendale Community College, only the time set aside for adult school was now filled with a job waitressing. The pace eventually caught up with her. She was so tired that she began to slow down in her cross-country races. She cut down her work hours and took on a different sport, the steeplechase. She was named All-American in steeplechase two years in a row and 2009 Women's Athlete of the Year.

Her talent and top grades drew the interest of several universities, but she chose CSUN "because it's a (NCAA) Division I school and they have one of the best programs for my major, political science."

In addition to racing and maintaining top academic standing, she worked part-time as a mentor and tutor for her fellow CSUN athletes and held several internships, including one with the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles, interviewing immigrants about legal issues and one with Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes.

She also established a mentoring/tutoring program for at-risk youth at Northridge Academy High School. Ley designed it to ensure that there will be a constant flow of Cal State Northridge students to give encouragement and support the high school students after she graduates.

Ley recently took part in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences graduation ceremony on the Oviatt Library Lawn at Cal State Northridge.

After competing in the finals of the 3,000 metersteeplechase at the Big West Conference Championships, Ley is looking forward to a summer internship in Washington, D.C. with MALDEF, the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. She's also begun prepping for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). She wants to be an immigration attorney.

CSUN Head Coach Finds Education Paramount to Success
By Bob Vazquez, Assistant Athletic Director (Media Relations)

Northridge, Calif. - #1 ... That's where Cal State Northridge head water polo coach Marcelo Leonardi values his education.

Since his childhood days when his parents emigrated from Argentina to the United States (Marcelo was born in the U.S.), education has played a paramount role in the success Leonardi has enjoyed as a coach, teacher, and more importantly, an educator.

His 49-24 in two seasons at CSUN has gained Leonardi such notoriety that he has been selected as an assistant coach on the United States Junior National Team that will compete in the World Championships later this year in Tieste (a city located in the north of Rome), Italy.

Leonardi finds the attention flattering but it's the educational road that means most to the Matador head coach who has ascended the Matador water polo program in national prominence the past two seasons.

"My parents always stressed education as a high priority," said Leonardi, who recently received his Ed.D in Educational Leadership. "I followed their advice that if you wanted to move up and be successful, your education would be important. Their advice has led me through high school, college and beyond."

The road to a successful career as a water polo coach, ironically, became more focused as he approached getting his degree in both Biology and Spanish from Whittier College in 1998.

As he progressed through college, Leonardi thought his degree in Biology would lead to a career in medicine. Not so fast.

"During my last two years of school, I found that I was a better communicator and I really enjoyed sports," said Leonardi, who was a three-year starter on the Whittier water polo team. "With my degree and my water polo background, I thought I could coach and teach at the secondary level."

And that's exactly what happened. His first teaching job was as a "long term sub" at El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera.

"I started the girls water polo team from the ground level," said Leonardi. "At first, we started a team just learning how to swim, and then we advanced to the basics of play in a tough sport like water polo."

The hard work and diligence paid off. Four years after starting the girls water polo team at El Rancho, the team captured the league title and advanced to the CIF championship game.

"The success of the program opened the door for several students to pursue their dream of attending college," remembers Leonardi of his coaching and teaching days at El Rancho HS.

While Leonardi was working at El Rancho, he started his teaching credentials program and masters degree program at Whittier College. Eventually, that led to his master's degree in Education in 2001, and two years later, a teaching credential in Biology/Life Sciences.

In 2005, Leonardi's career took a significant turn. While returning from a trip with his El Rancho club team from the Junior Olympics in San Jose, he was reading a Matador newsletter. CSUN was looking for an assistant coach under then head coach Molly Barnes. Leonardi had plans to reach another level of water polo coaching, and the assistant's position at Cal State Northridge seemed intriguing.

"The more Molly described the program and its opportunities, the more excited I got," said Leonardi. "I was hooked. I wanted to go coach water polo at the highest level of NCAA Division I and CSUN gave me that opportunity. I got the job."

Leonardi laughs at the amount of time he spent on L.A. freeways to get to work from his home in Long Beach to El Rancho HS in Pico Rivera, and then the drive to Cal State Northridge to help coach the team."

In addition, Leonardi decided to pursue an advanced degree at Azusa Pacific which added to his daily excursion through the maze of freeways in Los Angeles. Leonardi doesn't miss the 120 mile round trips every day from Long Beach for five years starting in 2004. Leonardi estimates he has put more than 136,000 miles on his 2006 automobile. But the sacrifices were worth it.

"If I was going to move forward in higher education, whether it was coaching, teaching or movitional teaching, I would need that advanced degree," said Leonardi, who in May of 2011 earned his Ed.D in Educational Leadership. Now he is Dr. Marcelo Leonardi.

The title of his Ed.D dissertation was "The effects of a scheduling change of a modified hybrid schedule on ninth grade high school biology bench mark exams and CST standardized tests." ... Perhaps the longest title in American educational history.

In 2009, Leonardi was named interim head coach at Cal State Northridge. The "interim" tag was lifted after Leonardi coached the Matadors to its best season ever (28-8), a first place finish during the Big West regular season, and a ninth place national ranking. In 2011, Cal State Northridge posted another 20-win season (21 wins) and another national ranking.

Leonardi now devotes his energy to the Cal State Northridge water polo program which means no more grinding drives on the L.A. freeways.

"My wife and I have been able to buy a home in Monrovia which means the commute is much more easier," said Leonardi, whose wife (Kendra) is a third grade teacher.

His next agenda is to help the United States win the gold medal at the Junior World Championships in Trieste, Italy. The United States is ranked one of the top teams in the world at the Junior and Senior National levels.

"The coaching assignment with USA Water Polo is a great opportunity to work with the top women's players in that age group in the country and learn from other elite coaches like Heather Moody (Head Coach of the USA Junior National team and Assistant Coach of the USA Senior National team), Adam Krikorian (Head Coach of the USA Senior National Team) and Dan Klatt (Assistant Coach of the USA Senior National team)," said Leonardi. "It is the ultimate form of professional development in coaching women's water polo, Plus you're representing your country. There is a sense of pride. When you put on that USA shirt, it's something special."

Matador Minute ... Congratulations to CSUN women's head soccer coach Keith West ... Keith and his wife are proud parents of a baby girl who was born on May 14 ... The baby checked into the world at eight pounds, seven ounces ... There is no truth to the rumor that Keith is already recruiting the new baby as a center defender on the CSUN team in the year 2029.

That's it for this years (2010-11) "This Month in Matador Athletics" ... Thanks for all your kind e-mails and your support of Matador Athletics ... Have a Great Summer ... See You in the Fall.

Bobby V.

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