June 1, 2011
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."