Vintage High senior Sofia Leonardini won’t be joining her sister when she plays water polo for the University of the Pacific, but she will be playing with another former Justin-Siena standout and for a former Braves head coach.
Leonardini signed a national letter of intent on Nov. 15 to continue her career with the NCAA Division I program in Stockton on a partial scholarship. She said she’ll be majoring in business with a marketing concentration, and minoring in computer science.
“My goal has been to be a Division I athlete for many years,” she said. “I worked very hard for years and years swimming, playing water polo, competing as a gymnast and doing general training.”
Leonardini led the Crushers with 63 goals, 120 shots, 24 assists, 17 caused kickouts and 5 field blocks. Her 64 steals were second only to Rachel Galvin’s 81.
For her three-year varsity career, she had 166 goals on 264 shots, 53 assists, 150 steals, 40 caused kickouts and 7 field blocks.
“Sofia is a strong athlete with a high water polo IQ,” Vintage head coach Sarah Tinloy said. “She has a high spirit and has been a force on this team for the past four years.”
Leonardini said Tinloy and assistant coach Addie Clem helped her develop as a player and a teammate.
“They always pushed and continue to push me to be my best possible self, in and out of the pool,” she said. “They always allowed me to try new things in games and helped me figure out my strengths and weaknesses as a player.”
Leonardini competed year-round for Gymnastics Zone during middle school and was a state champion in the vault.
“Gymnastics help with my strength, agility, flexibility, focus, work ethic and competitive drive,” she said.
Sofia’s sister, 2018 Justin-Siena graduate Julia Leonardini, was on the UOP roster last spring but has since left the school and water polo to make an academic change, Sofia said.
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She will have one familiar teammate, however, in redshirt senior goalkeeper Sam Pfaff, a 2015 Justin-Siena graduate who has played in 21 matches over the Tigers’ last three seasons. Being four years younger, Leonardini said she has only practiced and scrimmaged with Pfaff but admires her athletic prowess.
“Sam is my favorite,” Leonardini said. “She is awesome.”
Pfaff appeared in nine matches for Pacific last spring, finishing with 20 saves and a save percentage of .606. She had a save in each of the Tigers’ NCAA Tournament matches against Stanford in 2017 and 2019. Pfaff was the Marin County Athletic League Goalie of the Year in 2014, setting a school record with 189 saves that season and helping the Braves to their first-ever playoff win, 5-4 over Northgate.
Pfaff’s head coach for her last two Justin-Siena seasons in 2013 and 2014 was Joey Gullikson, who in January will be in his fifth season as associate head coach of the women’s and men’s programs at UOP under head coach James Graham.
“We are very excited to add Sofia to the Tiger Family,” Gullikson said. “Julia was a great teammate and hard worker, and we are hoping Sofia can bring the same to our program. Sofia has good speed, length and a great shot, and we are hoping that once she adjusts to the collegiate game she will be a great asset to our program.”
Sofia Leonardini was a freshman on Gullikson’s last Justin-Siena squad, and continued to play for him in his Napa-based Bangarang club.
“Joey was my first coach and has played a key part in my development as a player,” she said. “I’m very much looking forward to playing for him again. I’m very excited to be a Tiger and play for him and Coach Graham. They are both amazing coaches and I can’t wait to learn from both of them.”
Leonardini, who also swam with her sister for Waves Aquatics Napa Valley, thanked Waves coaches Kevin Twohey and Erin Begerow for their instruction. She also thanked Napa Premier Aquatics coach Joey Doyle, for whom she also played club water polo, and Davis Water Polo Club coaches Doug Wright, Carla Tocchini and Kandace Waldthaler, who is also a UC Davis women’s water polo assistant coach.
She also thanked her sister and their parents, Tom and Jakki Leonardini. Jakki played basketball for UC Santa Barbara.
“I would like to thank my entire family for helping me achieve this goal,” she said.