Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Madera South water polo goalie Jatzelle Salazar reaches up to block a shot during a 2019 match. She will block shots next season for the Fresno Pacific Sunbirds.
Most of the time, when the last line of defense gets mentioned, it’s not for a good thing, especially when it comes to sports.
However, that’s just the opposite for Madera South’s Jatzelle Salazar.
Salazar made such a difference for the Stallions in goal for the girls water polo team that the County/Metro Athletic Conference named her its Most Valuable Player.
“I cried when my coach told me I was the MVP of the league,” she said. “I didn’t think I could do something like that.”
Salazar signed her National Letter of Intent during a Google Meet call with about 20 other people looking on to play water polo at Fresno Pacific University.
“It’s kind of scary to sign and also exciting. It’s a little scary because we’re doing it over a Zoom meeting. I’m not one for that type of technology and watching through a video is kind of odd. I’m really excited for it, to put my name on the letter.
Salazar said she will be receiving almost a full-ride scholarship to the East Fresno-based school. She sent out an email to a few water polo coaches and Fresno Pacific was one of the first schools to get back to her.
“We scheduled an official visit,” she aid. “We kept in contact and went over my financial package and the benefits I would get.”
Salazar has been considered one of the best water polo goalies in the Central Section for the past couple of seasons and lived up to those expectations this year. She also added seven goals.
“It was great to score goals to know other schools had to watch out for me scoring,” she said.
Salazar, who carries a 4.13 GPA, plans to major in criminology to become a criminal psychiatrist.
She was also looking at Arizona, Fresno State, Salem and the Virginia Military Institute.
“Playing with some of the Madera girls was one of the reasons why I was looking at the other schools,” Salazar said.
Madera’s Bailey Hansen will play at Fresno State next season and Madera’s Lola Gill is playing at Salem.
In the end, committing to Fresno Pacific was her top choice.
“Fresno Pacific was my top choice, especially since they gave me, basically, a full ride. There was nothing else I could have asked for,” she said.
In addition, by signing at FPU, Salazar will get to play with one of her closest friends, Madera’s Emily Lopez-Ibarra.
“Me and her are best friends,” Salazar said. “It’s great to play at the same school as her. Since the seventh grade, we always wanted to be on the same team. High school separated us. Then, we started playing together in club. Even then, we always weren’t on the same team. It will be great to play with her for four years at the same school.”
Salazar began her career in front of the goal playing youth soccer. When she went out for water polo in middle school, it was a natural transition to goalie.
“As a kid, for soccer, I was the goalkeeper,” she said. “We had a team for middle school and no one really knew what water polo was. One of the coaches asked if anyone wanted to play goalie. I said I played goalie in soccer and I’ll try it. I’ve been a goalie since then.”
Salazar credits her love of the game to what makes her so special between the pipes.
“I never thought about what makes me such a great goalie,” she said. “I love being in the water. I feel like I’m in control of my team. I tell my girls what to do and help them through it. Knowing that I blocked so many shots is great.”
Although Salazar is passing the time by working out with her sister and doing classes online, she is excited for the next chapter, especially since it will be at a school close to home.
“Me and my family are really close,” she said. “Everything we do, we’re always together. My parents hate going to restaurants and not taking us. Having them here with me, still guiding me and supporting me, is amazing. My parents are happy I was close to home. They love to see me play and go to every single game they can go to. They are happy I am local and they can watch me all the time.
“It is so local and I’m getting almost a full ride so it was the best for me,” she said. “It’s a great school and I’m happy to be going there.”