Northridge, Calif. – Since the start of women's water polo in 2002, Cal State Northridge has established a strong tradition as one of the most consistent, nationally-ranked, successful women's water polo programs in the country.
CSUN has produced seven winning seasons, four 20-win seasons in the past five seasons, produced numerous All-Americans, and has been a leader nationally in producing outstanding students in the classroom.
Natalie Averell will serve as a quality, reserve goalkeeper.
In addition to Alexis Elias (defender), another top freshman player will be McKenzie Pollei (utility). Other incoming freshmen are Marissa Petras (attacker), Jade Arner (attacker) and Emily Fuller (attacker). Kristi McGee, a freshmen defender, and Molly Bria, a utility player, will redshirt in 2014.
"McKenzie brings a solid background who knows our system of play. She is physical. She does all the little things right. Elias brings size, good athleticism and will be our third center defender behind Melissa (Doll) and Kelcie (Ferreira).
Also look for quality depth from Bianca Adams, a redshirt junior from Cal State Bakersfield.
With such a strong, deep, talented team, a highly competitive environment has been created.
"That's a fair assessment," said Dr. Leonardi. "There is good competition at practice. I can already tell the level of practice is more competitive. The players are going to compete for playing time. Because we are bringing back so many quality scorers, it will be intriguing to see how everything will look once we put it all together. The one thing I know is that we are unselfish as a team. Our system of play will provide balanced scoring. You may have one or two players score a few more goals. But on any given day, anybody can lead us in scoring."
In just 12 years since the start of women's water polo at Cal State Northridge, the Matadors have developed a strong tradition.
"I am entering my ninth season coaching at CSUN (four years as head coach, four years as an assistant coach)," said Dr. Leonardi. "I think the athletes can relate to the culture we have implemented here at CSUN. We not only want the athletes to have success in the pool at CSUN, but also in the real world. When former athletes and alumni come back to CSUN, they witness the culture that they directly had a hand in building. I am a big believer in creating a winning culture, but at this point in the program, we now strive to consistently perform at a high level each year. That is what makes a program or an organization successful. Consistency! I remember my first recruiting class here at CSUN. They are now out in the work force. They are lawyers, physicians, teachers, officers, etc. They are successful members of the community."
Along with the strong tradition, academics are strong in the classroom as it is in the pool. Under Dr. Leonardi's direction, 24 players have earned Academic All-Americans honors 38 times. A total of 18 players have won Big West Conference All-Academic accolades 26 times.
"Like any coach, I want to win games. I want to win championships. But I also want my athletes to graduate and have the option of pursuing advanced degrees and be successful in their desired field of study. The culture of this program promotes both academic and athletic success. Our recruiting focuses on bringing individuals who have the potential to succeed in both areas."
The Matadors compete in the Big West Conference. It's a well-balanced and well-coached conference, according to Dr. Leonardi. The Big West Conference is the only conference in the country that has all of its members ranked in the Top 20. You have to prepare and compete each week for all Big West teams. However, UC Irvine has set the standard the past four years. The Anteaters have won the conference tournament title the last four out of five years, and has been a regular participant in the NCAA Tournament.
"UC Irvine brings back a lot of quality talent," said Dr. Leonardi. "UCI has always been the standard in our conference. They are well coached and play a disciplined and fundamental style of water polo. If you want to measure yourself in this conference, you look at UC Irvine."
Let the games begin.
"Our chemistry in-and-out of the water is fantastic," said Dr. Leonardi. "We compete hard in the pool but when we are out of the pool, we are a family. The girls support each other in every facet, school, everything. I think we are going to be there at the end."
Matador Memo ...
Cal State Northridge begins its 2014 season this weekend at the UCSB Tournament … On Saturday (1/25/14), the Matadors face Whittier at 1:00 pm followed by a 6:20 pm game against UCLA … On Sunday (1/26/14), CSUN faces Pacific at 10:20 am followed by a 2:00 pm encounter against Cal State Monterey Bay.