NORTHRIDGE, Calif – The 2018 CSUN Water Polo season presents the opportunity for the Matadors to take the next step. No. 21 CSUN returns 15 letterwinners from last season including a seven-member senior class led by senior All-American Madeleine Sanchez. After finishing last season with a Top 20 national ranking, second-year head coach Matt Warshaw looks to lead the Matadors into contention for a conference crown.
The 2017 season proved to be a year of transition for the Matadors. Warshaw was hired as the team’s head coach a little over two months before the start of the new season. With the challenge of a short preparation period and a schedule that consisted of 21 Top 20 opponents, Warshaw led the group to a fifth-place finish at the Big West Championships.
“Last year was a blur, I didn’t start until late October and inheriting the team once they had already began training was a challenge,” said Warshaw. “This year were much more organized and efficient in our fall training and getting our basic system installed.”
On the offensive end, this year’s squad is again led by Sanchez. One of the program’s top attackers in school history, Sanchez enters her final season with the Matadors after posting a career high and league-leading 74 goals in 2017. A native of Murrieta, Calif., Sanchez sits in sixth place in school history with 175 career tallies and needs 48 to become the school’s all-time scoring leader.
Sanchez scored 74 goals and tallied 100 steals in 2017
“Maddie has had quite the career thus far in her first three years,” said Warshaw. “She’ll be the first one to tell you though that her success is dependent on her teammates. Allowing Maddie to play her style and create opportunities inevitably will open up more opportunities for herself and her teammates.”
Lost in Sanchez’s tremendous offensive output was her defense. Posting 100 steals in 2017, Sanchez became just the second Matador ever to reach the century mark in steals.
“Her defense gets overlooked too often as her offensive accomplishments are highlighted,” continued Warshaw. “We expect big numbers when her career is over on both ends of the pool. We are looking for big things from Maddie as she enters her final season of competition.”
Also among the team’s senior class includes Katelyn Fairchild and Shannon Hovanesian who each had breakout junior seasons. Seventh in the Big West in scoring, Fairchild scored a career-high 48 goals and added 64 steals while Hovanesian posted a career-high 27 goals, 48 assists (team high) and 51 steals.
“I use Katelyn as an example almost every day when speaking to our younger players,” said Warshaw. “She appeared in a handful of games her freshman year. She has a daily work ethic that has paid dividends, and it didn’t happen overnight. Katelyn has developed into one of the premier workhorses in the Big West and someone that constantly puts pressure on the other team to defend her in the counter attack.”
“Shannon is our leader by example,” continued Warshaw. “Her calm demeanor in the heat of the moment during games is something that will calm the less experienced players down. She’s the player that will be able to quickly recognize what other teams are trying to do and then help us break it down mid game.”
The Matadors’ last line defense remains senior goalkeeper Niki Van Vugt. A two-year starter, Van Vugt registered 181 saves last season in over 604 minutes in front of the cage. In the Matador record books, Van Vugt is fifth with 392 career saves. Backing up Van Vugt, the Matadors have sophomore Nathalie Brewster, who tallied 96 saves last season, and freshman Emma Pfister.
“Niki is our defensive leader and we expect her to anchor the team defense this season,” said Warshaw. “We’ve placed quite an emphasis on defense this offseason. Both individual and team defense remain our focus in the preseason and I’m excited to see the results in the next few months. With two experienced goalies and a freshman leading the way, we expect big things on that end of the pool.”
Among the 15 returners, senior centers Amy Yule (24 goals) and Paula Abellan Garcia (three goals) return along with senior defender Carly Wickman (16 steals). Battling through injuries last year, junior utility player Lindsey Garcia posted 12 steals and six goals as a sophomore.
Adding to the experience, Warshaw expects big things from his sophomore class who all return with a crucial year of experience under their belts. Attacker Katia Andon-Mateos and utility Jennalyn Barthels are both expected to gain minutes this season along with defender Ashlee Sellung. Hoping to build off a solid freshman year, Madasonne Butler tallied 12 goals in 28 matches.
“Katia and Jenna have shown great improvements on the offensive end, and both of them have made great strides in the weight room as well as in the pool,” said Warshaw. “Ashlee competed in the Maccabiah Games in Israel last summer, and in addition to her training she is getting more comfortable taking on a leadership role on defense. Madasonne had a great freshman year and we expect her to pick up right where she left off.”
CSUN has also added 12 newcomers including Division I transfers McKenzie Beardsley and Skylar Newhouser who both played at CSU Bakersfield as freshmen last season. Along with the two sophomores, the team possesses eight true freshmen and two junior college transfers.
“McKenzie and Skylar will have an immediate impact,” said Warshaw. “Both coming from the powerful MPSF, their experience in high level competition shows everyday in our training. Freshmen Sara Dempsey and Rachael Fusco have both shown the potential to compete from the start as both come from storied programs and we expect them to get more comfortable as the year goes on. Elyse Koe, Emma Franck, Brianna Coury and Yuri Cowie have bright futures within the program, and their coachability has been great from the start. Daci Hughes and Charissa Dorn are junior college transfers that bring maturity to the team.”
Fairchild tallied 48 goals and 64 steals last season
Joining Warshaw this season on the coaching sidelines is assistant coach Amy Olsen. A well-traveled coaching veteran of club water polo, Olsen was a two-time All-American at Iona College as she helped her team to three conference crowns. Olsen has also played professionally in Europe from 2014-17 and coached at the club level in France.
“The transition with Coach Olsen has been a smooth one,” said Warshaw. “Her playing experience gives her instant credibility with the current student-athletes and she has a way of communication with them which they can relate too. Coach Olsen is a great role model for our team.”
Led by an experienced senior class, the Matadors embark on the 2018 season with a sense of excitement and eagerness to compete with the top teams in the Big West.
“The group that returns this season is battle tested,” said Warshaw. “We’ve talked as a group at length about how there isn’t much they haven’t been through as a unit. Between the coaching turnover the past few years and tough schedule we played last year. They have paid their dues and are hungry to experience success this spring.”
CSUN kicks off its 17th season this weekend at the UC Santa Barbara Winter Invite. The Matadors will face Azusa Pacific and Cal Baptist on day one of the tournament on Jan. 19. CSUN concludes the weekend a day later with matchups against No. 8 Michigan and Fresno State.