Jan. 20, 2011
Northridge, Calif. - The time has arrived.
Coming off their most successful season (28-8) in school history in 2010, the ingredients for another outstanding season for Cal State Northridge women's water polo are in order in 2011.
The Matadors, nationally-ranked (#15) in the pre-season in 2011, will begin their quest for a third straight Big West regular season title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament with a team that returns a strong group of offensive scorers, defensive standouts, and a talented group of freshmen, perhaps in the strongest in school history.
The Matadors start the year at the prestigious Michigan Invitational (January 22-23) in Ann Arbor.
Cal State Northridge returns four of its top five scorers. Whitney Delgado (Junior, Attacker, Thousand Oaks, Ca) emerged as one of the top scorers in the nation last year. As a sophomore in 2010, Delgado tallied a school record 80 goals, tops in the Big West Conference. Her scoring efforts earned her first team All-Big West Conference honors and Honorable Mention All-American accolades. Delgado, with 115 goals in two seasons at CSUN, is fifth all-time in career goals.
Sydney Sonoda (Senior, Center, Murrieta, Ca) scored 43 goals, while Heidi Pettinger (Defender, Junior, Corona, Ca) and Chelsea Curran (Center, Senior, Chino, Ca) each scored 29 goals. This trio returns to give CSUN a formidable offensive attack in 2011 along with the offensive exploits of Delgado. Sonoda gained Honorable Mention All-American and first team All-Big West Conference honors. Pettinger's scoring totals could take a sizable jump in 2011 while Curran is coming off her best scoring year in 2010. Sonoda and Curran each have scored 90 career goals, eighth best in CSUN history.
"We graduated some key components but we have a nucleus of returning players which includes our leading scorer, Whitney Delgado and a strong group of defenders," said head coach Marcelo Leonardi. "We're asking more from Whitney this year. She probably won't score as many goals as last year. We'll ask her to do a couple more different things to improve our overall defense and enhance our offense. Sydney (Sonoda) and Chelsea (Curran) will handle our two-meter duties. They are arguably two of the top three centers in the Big West Conference. They are both seniors and both All-Americans. Heidi is looking for a breakout season. She is a starting center defender."
Collectively, Delgado, Sonoda, Curran and Pettinger accounted for 181 of the school record 371 goals last season. Other returning lettermen include Jessica Goforth (Defender, Senior, Visalia, Ca), Alyssa Goldie (Attacker, Junior, Riverside, Ca) Leah Janke (Attacker, Sophomore, Wildomar, Ca), Katie Outzen (Attacker, Junior, San Mateo, Ca)), Kylie Sarpa (Attacker, Sophomore, San Jose, Ca), and Bethany Scamara (Attacker, Senior, Fontana, Ca). Sarpa is expected to redshirt this year.
Cal State Northridge prided itself on tough defense last year. The Matadors, in 2010, led the Big West Conference in total defense. CSUN gave up only 6.47 goals per game. Jillian Stapf anchored CSUN's defense in goal. Stapf, an Honorable Mention All-American and Big West Player of the Year, ended her four-year career with numerous school records including career saves (1,305).
"Losing Jillian is huge," admits Leonardi. "Words cannot describe the impact she made on the program. Jillian is currently working as a volunteer assistant coach with our two goalkeepers, Nicole Concialdi and Dana Harvey. Neither player has taken the edge in who will be the starter. We will be solid in the cage."
Concialdi tallied a career-high 84 saves last year as a reserve goalkeeper behind the All-American Jillian Stapf. Concialdi had ten or more saves in four games in 2010 including a career-high 15 saves against Pomona-Pitzer. Harvey was part of the Arizona State water polo program the last two years as a goalkeeper. Harvey helped the Sun Devils to national rankings of eighth in 2009 and eleventh in 2010. During the 2010 campaign, Harvey started 18 games and collected 139 saves and a 6.04 saves per game average, ninth-best for a single season in ASU history."
CSUN's defensive wall in front of Concialdi and Harvey will be strong.
"We've changed a couple things fundamentally and tactically to play to our strengths," said Leonardi. "Our speed and field blocking will be a great factor. Heidi (Pettinger) and Jessica (Goforth) are two very good center defenders".
Leonardi has brought in a freshman class who will play immediately. "The freshmen have experience and athleticism, and will pick up the Matador system very well. We're ready to go."
Because of the success of the Cal State Northridge water polo program in recent years, the freshman class each year has grown stronger. This year, Leonardi has added ten freshmen who will keep Cal State Northridge strong for many years to come.
The freshmen class is led by Lindsy Nelson (Attacker, Murray, Ut). Nelson is a member of the United States Junior National team. Nelson has already moved into the starting lineup at Cal State Northridge, according to Leonardi. A lefthanded attacker, Nelson is athletic, fast and will be a key asset particularly in 6-on-5 advantages. Celena Photopulos (Attacker, Corona, Ca) is also an attacker who is not only athletic, but a great ball handler who creates scoring situations like a strong point-guard in basketball. Look for Melissa Doll (Attacker, Souderton, Pa) to see plenty of action in 2011. According to Leonardi, Doll is the fastest player he has ever coached at Cal State Northridge. She will definitely contribute with her athletic abilities especially in one-on-one defensive situations. Molly Henehan (Center, Corona, Ca) will patrol the center position. That position is ably covered by veterans Sydney Sonoda and Chelsea Curran, thus Henehan will have the opportunity to learn and grow throughout the 2011 season. Jenny Jamison (Utility, Thousand Oaks, Ca) is being compared to graduated senior Kristin McLaughlin, who was an outstanding player for four seasons (2007-10) at Cal State Northridge. Jamison is a big, talented attacker who can play several positions.
Other top freshman recruits include Geneva Capos (Attacker, Granite Bay, Ca), Carson Nestler (Attacker, Los Gatos, Ca), Hayley Gurriell (Attacker, San Diego, Ca), Chelsea Yox (Utility, Whittier, Ca) and Danielle Dalton (Attacker, Rancho Cucamonga, Ca). Yox and Dalton are expected to redshirt in 2011.
Cal State Northridge has upgraded its 2011 schedule that will include several of the top collegiate water polo teams in the country. The Matadors begin their 2011 campaign with an appearance at the Michigan Invitational (January 22-23). The Matadors will begin the tournament on Saturday, January 22, against eighth-ranked Michigan followed by a game later in the day against #13 Indiana. The following day, Cal State Northridge faces sixth-ranked Loyola Marymount followed by a game against fourth-ranked UCLA.
Cal State Northridge will also compete in three of the nation's top tournaments (UCSD Invitational, UC Irvine Invitational and the San Diego State Invitational). At the SDSU Invitational, the Matadors will face fifth-ranked Hawaii, seventh-ranked San Jose State, tenth-ranked San Diego State and #17 UC San Diego.
"Our schedule is much more difficult in comparison to last year," said Leonardi. "But the tougher schedule will help us prepare to get to the Big West Championship game. Hopefully we'll win the league tournament title and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament."
The Big West Conference season will have plenty of parity among the six league teams (CSUN, UC Davis, UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, Pacific, Long Beach State). Five of the six teams are ranked nationally in the pre-season led by UC Irvine (#11), UC Santa Barbara (#12), Cal State Northridge (#15), UC Davis (#17) and Pacific (#18).
"I definitely see us in the hunt for the Big West championship again," said Leonardi. "Playing in the league title game last year was a great learning experience. The conference has parity. There are no bad teams in the league."
With the immense success created last year (28-8), expectations have risen to new heights. Leonardi doesn't mind the attention the team has received. The fact the team has succeeded not only in the pool and also in the classroom (10 Academic All-Americans last year) makes it all good.
"I am more happy about the team in terms of their success in the classroom and in the pool," said Leonardi. "The team produced a 3.21 gpa in the fall. As long as we are playing for the league championship and the girls are succeeding in the classroom, then I'm happy. The expectations for winning arrive with any program. With success, the eyes are on you and that's ok."