January 22, 2013

The 2013 Cal State Northridge Water Polo Outlook

Northridge, Calif. – A new season. New enthusiasm. Let the games begin.

Cal State Northridge has earned a berth as a nationally-ranked water polo team in recent years, and this year will be no exception.

The 2013 version of the Cal State Northridge water polo team will be one that is loaded with talent, depth, experience and very high expectations that will include a realistic bid to compete for the Big West Championship and a first-time berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Eight of the ten players who scored in double-figures last year return. That adds up to 288 of the team's school record 378 goals in 2012. That translates to 76 percent of the team's offense that hopefully will be overpowering opponents in 2013.

The list of scorers includes Jenny Jamison (Junior, Utility, Thousand Oaks, Ca), Marisa Young (Sophomore, Utility, Fountain Valley, Ca) and Lindsy Nelson (Junior, Attacker, Murray, Ut). Jamison scored 68 goals last year. Young tallied 65 goals while Nelson added 51 goals.

"Not only do we return a lot of scoring power, but we have gotten bigger, faster, stronger, and have developed team cohesion," said fourth-year head coach Dr. Marcelo Leonardi. "We should be more balanced this year, and with our current system and the experience of our returning players, this group will be more confident."

Jamison became a dominant scorer as a sophomore last year. As a freshman in 2011, Jamison tallied a modest eight goals. That figure ballooned to 68 goals in 2012, the second-best scorer in the Big West Conference, and fifth-best for a single season in school history. Jamison's heroics earned her first team All-Big West Conference honors.

Young made a smooth transition from high school water polo to the collegiate ranks last year. Young became the first CSUN player to earn Big West Freshman of the Year honors with 65 goals, third-best in the league and sixth-best in school history.

Jamison and Young were both named Honorable Mention All-Americans in 2012.   

In two seasons at Cal State Northridge, Nelson has emerged as a dangerous scoring threat. Her 51 goals were third-best on the team and fifth-best in the Big West Conference. Her two-season goal total is 92, a scoring figure that is nearing the Matador career Top-10 list.

Other prominent scorers to return for Cal State Northridge include Missy Doll (Junior, Utility, Souderton, Pa), Kelcie Ferreira (Sophomore, Defender, Trinidad & Tobago), Molly Henehan (Junior, Center, Corona, Ca), Celena Photopolus (Junior, Attacker, Corona, Ca), Leah Janke (Senior, Attacker, Canyon Lake, Ca), and Katie Kammer (Sophomore, Attacker, Fullerton, Ca).

Doll is not only a quality scorer (36 goals in 2012), but she also showed her versatile talent last year with a team leading 46 assists, and #2 on the Matadors with 46 steals and 23 field blocks. Ferreira will be a dominant player at the defender position. Her 79 steals led the team last year in addition to scoring 27 goals. Henehan scored 27 goals in 39 games and was among the team leaders in shooting percentage (.397). Photopulos scored 16 goals. Janke and Kammer each scored 13 goals.

"I'll be interested to see how balanced we are this year, and not rely so heavily on one or two players to score goals," said Leonardi.  "I think we will still have one or two players emerge as top scorers based on shot opportunities and penalty shots, but for the most part we will have a balanced scoring attack."

Doll and Ferriera are excellent scorers, but defense will be their forte this year.

"Kelcie Ferriera has embraced the role of center defender," said Leonardi. "Missy Doll will be a defensive stopper who will guard the opponent's best overall shooter and attacker. Because of our athleticism and speed and our experience particularly on the perimeter, I think we will be very tough defensively."

Other top returning players include Hayley Gurriell (Junior, Attacker, San Diego, Ca) and Chelsea Yox (RS Sophomore, Utility, Whittier, Ca).

Kiernan Davis (Sophomore, Goalkeeper, Redlands, Ca) will be the team's starting goalkeeper in 2013. Davis earned extensive playing time last year as a freshman. Davis played in 18 games and averaged 11.41 saves per game last year, second-best in the Big West Conference. Her best game of the year was a 16-save performance against nationally-ranked and Big West champions UC Irvine.

"Kiernan has certain goals she wants to attain collectively as a team and individually in our conference," said Leonardi. "She brings a different look in the cage for us. She has the ability to cover a wide area. She is very vocal, understands defensively what we are trying to accomplish, and has great chemistry and respect with her teammates."

Natalie Averall (Freshman, Goalkeeper, Poway, Ca) and Megan Kittlitz (Freshman, Goalkeeper, Clovis, Ca) will compete for the #2 spot in goal for Cal State Northridge.

"Defensively, we are better on the perimeter," said Leonardi. "We should be able to press teams defensively as well as rely on our shot blocking abilities."

 Besides Averall and Kittlitz, two other freshmen will embark on their collegiate careers at Cal State Northridge. Taitum Herrington (Freshman, Attacker, Lodi, Ca) and Taryn Kamimoto (Freshman, Attacker, Manhattan Beach, Ca) will see extensive playing time. Leonardi expects Herrington to make an impact on the team's success in 2013.

On paper, Cal State Northridge looks strong, both offensively and defensively. The key, according to Leonardi, is to stay healthy over a grueling season that will last from 33 to 36 games this year.

"There is a five-week stretch in March where we will play 18 games," said Leonardi. "We have to make sure we continue to develop as one unit, stay healthy, reach certain benchmarks through the season, and peak at the right time for both conference games and the Big West Championship."

Cal State Northridge will begin the 2013 season ranked 16th in the nation by the Collegiate Water Polo Association (CWPA). The Big West Conference will be extremely strong. Besides CSUN, five other league schools are nationally-ranked in the pre-season. The list includes sixth-ranked UC Irvine, seventh-ranked San Diego State, 12th ranked UC Davis, #13 ranked Hawaii, and 15th ranked UC Santa Barbara.

"With the addition of nationally-ranked Hawaii and San Diego State into our conference, it changes the dynamics a little bit," said Leonardi. "In the past, we had to prepare for five Big West Conference gaes. Now we have to prepare for seven conference games with the addition of San Diego State and Hawaii."

Despite the strong competition, the pre-season goals don't change. "We want to win a championship. We want to go to the NCAA's."

In preparation for the 2013 season, the Matadors recently traveled to the United States Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs for training and several scrimmages.

"Coming off an Olympic year that resulted in a gold medal for the United States, I looked at different scenarios in order to serve as a training camp in order to build team chemistry," said Leonardi. "I wanted to be able to provide the team an opportunity to experience how elite-level athletes live, eat, and train in preparation for National and International events. What better way than to train at the U.S. Olympic Center. In addition to training in preparation for the season, the team also scrimmaged against Colorado State. The training trip was also used as an evaluator in preparation for the season opening games at the UCSB Tournament. It was something new and fresh."

Cal State Northridge begins the season on January 26-27 at the UC Santa Barbara Tournament. The Matadors will start the season against fifth-ranked Arizona State on Jan. 26 at 12:30 pm.

The team will also play in such prestigious tournaments as the UCSD Triton Invitational, the UC Irvine Tournament, and at the San Diego State Aztec Invitational. Those tournaments will feature the top teams in the country include defending champion Stanford, and such notables as UCLA, USC and California.

Matador Memo

Cal State Northridge begins the 2013 season on Saturday & Sunday, January 26-27, at the UC Santa Barbara Tournament ... On Saturday, the Matadors will face fifth-ranked Arizona State at 12:30 pm followed by a 6:20 pm contest against UC San Diego ... On Sunday, CSUN faces Pomona-Pitzer at 11:30 am followed by a 3:00 pm game against Sonoma State.