• 2014 FINA Youth World Champions
  • 8 All-Americans

Marcelo Leonardi

Every coach has visions of winning championships and developing a successful culture. The women’s water polo program at the University of Michigan possesses a culture that focuses on leadership, teamwork, academic and athletic achievement, sustainable recruiting, and a positive interaction with the community.

All institutions have leaders. Leaders are the cornerstone of any great program or institution. They are the problem-solvers, the motivators and the heart of the program. Leadership is imperative to the success of a program. As a coaching staff we want to (a) graduate players, (b) consistently field a highly competitive water polo team, (c) qualify for the NCAA Tournament via a CWPA Championship, and (d) develop better relationships within the academic and local community.

All successful teams have been able to build strong relationships among student-athletes and coaching staff throughout their journeys. These relationships provide the foundation of teamwork. The team will always supersede the individual. The culture promotes and supports an open avenue of communication among student-athletes and coaches. This will facilitate the building of stronger and more meaningful relationships, which will strengthen the women’s water polo team in times of adversity.

Academic Achievement
Academic achievement has to come before athletic achievement. The women’s water polo program maintains a high standard in the classroom and is accountable for its achievement. Successful student-athletes learn how to balance both academics and athletics. A student-athlete must possess the organizational skills to balance practices, attend class and know when to study for exams. The culture on the women’s water polo team places academics at a premium.

Athletic Accountability
Athletic achievement is one of the cornerstones of a winning program. Each individual and team must set both short-term and long-term goals that are directly aligned with the vision of the program, training and competition. Winning is a state of mind and a culmination of a successful journey. Athletic achievement can only be measured through goal-setting and benchmarks. Success builds on success. The women’s water polo program will work hard to win championships.

Sustainable Recruiting
The women’s water polo program wants to recruit the leaders and the best. A winning culture can be sustained by “getting the right people on the bus.” It is important to identify and recruit prospects that fit the culture of the program, and will excel both academically and athletically at the University of Michigan.

Community Outreach
One aspect that is critical to the overall success of our culture is being a part of the community. Being a student-athlete at a Division I program means being a role model for our sport and ultimately the University of Michigan. Therefore, it is important to be a visible member of the community at local youth programs, elementary schools, hospitals, etc. Other ways we are visible includes supporting other university athletic programs, attending events that are sponsored by the community, and participating in community service projects.


Coach Bio

Dr. Marcelo Leonardi was introduced as Michigan’s water polo head coach on May 30, 2014, becoming the third coach in U-M history.

Leonardi took over the Michigan women's water polo program after spending five seasons as the women's water polo coach at California State University in Northridge. In five years at Cal State Northridge, Leonardi compiled a 115-64 overall record with four 20-win campaigns and top 20 final national rankings each year. Leonardi had student-athletes named All-Big West 23 times, accumulating 10 first-team citations, five second-team honors and eight honorable mention accolades. He had six student-athletes earn All-America honors eight times. In the classroom, his student-athletes had a cumulative grade point average above a 3.0 all five years.

In addition to his collegiate coaching success, Leonardi has national and international coaching experience with USA Water Polo (2009 to current). He is currently the women's national youth team coach, which will be competing this summer at the Youth World Championships in Madrid, Spain. He also serves as the national technical director for the women's Olympic Development Program (ODP) associated with the organization since 2013. In his role with USA Water Polo, Leonardi oversees the implementation of training for all female athletes in the Olympic Development Program nationwide as well as competition at the national training and selection camps.

Fun Fact

Coach Leonardi, who received his doctorate degree in educational leadership in 2011, spent 15 years as a science teacher at El Rancho High School in Pico Rivera, California.

Career Highlights

  • GOLD - 2014 FINA Youth World Championships
  • 8 - All-Americans
  • 23 - All-Conference Honorees

Assistant Coaches

Sydney Sonoda

Assistant Coach

Sydney Sonoda was announced as an assistant coach for the University of Michigan water polo team on Tuesday, September 6, 2016.

Sonoda, a former player for Leonardi at Cal State Northridge, landed her first college coaching job after coaching the last two years at Elite Water Polo Club in Murrieta, Calif. She assisted in practice and game plans, developed an offseason strength and conditioning program and was involved in fundraising.

She also has experience as an assistant coach at Murrieta Valley High School, leading the JV team to a victory in the league finals and aiding the varsity to a CIF Division II championship. In 2015-16, she was a youth and cadet coach for the USA Water Polo Olympic Development Program.

While coaching at the Elite Water Polo Club from 2014-16, Sonoda also was a designated instructional services aide at Murrieta Valley High School for one year after working as an extended daycare program assistant from 2012-14 at Encinitas Union School District.

Sonoda graduated from Cal State Northridge in 2011 with a dual degree in criminal justice and sociology. As a player at CSUN, she scored 143 career goals and had 101 career steals. She was a two-time All-Big West selection and honorable mention All-American in 2010. She earned the team’s work ethic award in 2009, the team’s offensive MVP in 2011 and the team’s rookie of the year honor in 2008.