Heading into their second consecutive DII Sweet 16, CSU Northridge women had one goal: Finish better than last year. And with their 65-7 win over UC Santa Cruz this afternoon, the Southern California team has done just that. But that doesn’t mean Northridge is looking to head home tomorrow without a win; they’re looking forward to their rematch against Washington State in the quarterfinals.
Before Northridge realized today's blowout, they had to win the mental battle that accompanies higher-pressure games.
“For the first 20 minutes, ballhandling for both teams was not very good; there were a lot of loose balls,” CSU Northridge co-coach Christina Alatorre said. “It was nerves. We were the first teams out on the pitch, in that Stanford stadium – that had a lot to do with it. … That’s kind of what happened last year during our first time out on the field [against Washington State], except it was a lot worse. During our league games, [nerves] weren’t an issue, and especially not during the SoCal playoffs. Then, we came out really strong.”
But then Northridge got the ball to their wily backs with more success, and the tide of the game started to flow in their direction.
“We just started putting points on the scoreboard, and that settled everyone’s nerves,” Alatorre said. “Santa Cruz adjusted somewhat. They came back and tried to attack, but their flanker and eightman picks weren’t working. They tried to give it to their backline, but we put a lot of pressure on them, and the centers mishandled the ball a lot.”
Northridge continued to work the ball wide, especially after they realized that UCSC’s outside defense was susceptible to getting sucked in or relying on man-to-man coverage. The ball moved around, and the flurry of tries followed.
Katie Kargari was lights out. She scored three tries out of the backs, and was nicely augmented by the fleet-footed Monique Robles and the expertise of flyhalf Gillian Chance, both of whom also scored tries. Fullback Maggie Ayala and loose forward Lupe Moreno also added five-pointers.
“During the last three games, Gill has been on it,” Alatorre said. “Her kicking was great – she made most of her conversions – and so was her running. She had a really good try where she ran through three people. She’s just been bringing it. And Monique, she’s able to create space and run through it at speed. That’s something we do especially well in the backline. As soon as that space opens up, we have people like Katie who can just run through it. Those three have been making a difference. In the forwards, Cece Mullens was able to run through a lot of Santa Cruz’s forwards, same with Sarah McGee.”
But Alatorre was quick to note that Northridge is not a team that relies one asset more than other. They like to pass the ball a lot, which means more players around the pitch are able to score, and they do.
With that win, the team is heading to their first-ever DII quarterfinal, where they’ll face last year’s Round of 16 opponent, Washington State, which defeated Utah Valley 41-5 this afternoon.
“Our team last year, they didn’t have the confidence coming into playoffs,” Alatorre explained. “They were a rookie team, and they didn’t know how they made it here. This year, they’ve stepped into their own and believe they deserve to be here.
“We’ve just got to pump them up,” Alatorre added, contemplating how to mentally prepare her team for tomorrow’s rematch. “This is their redemption. We’ve been taking every game one at a time, but really our goal has been to come up here and battle Washington State again. They feel they have something to prove. Win or lose, I have a feeling they’re going to bring something tomorrow.”