Jan. 9, 2014
DAVIS, Calif. -- -
SEASON BY THE NUMBERS
UC Davis finished the 2013 campaign with a 9-9-3 overall record and a 4-4-2 mark in Big West Conference play, proving the preseason prognostications correct and finishing second in the league's North Division (and fourth overall with 14 points) behind unbeaten UC Santa Barbara (7-0-3).
A season after winning the North Division and earning a spot in the championship match of the Big West Tournament, the Aggies, once again, made a deep run into the playoffs, hosting a first-round match against UC Riverside and gaining the semifinals of the league's postseason event before falling to eventual tournament champion and NCAA Tournament "Sweet 16" participant UC Irvine.
The 2013 season marked the third-straight appearance (fourth overall) for the Aggies in the Big West Tournament and the second-straight season that they posted an opening-round win.
Following the season, four Aggies were invited to professional combines: goalkeeper Omar Zeenni and midfielder Alex Henry were invited to train with the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer while Zeenni, midfielder Alex Aguiar, and midfielder Elliott Hord were invited to train with the USL's newest franchise, the Sacramento Republic FC.
STRAIGHT FROM THE COACH'S MOUTH
A Q&A with UC Davis Head Coach Dwayne Shaffer about the 2013 season...
Looking back at the 2013 season, what did you take away from the campaign?
"This season, I took away the fact that we're a very good team and we've established a very good program at UC Davis. On any given day, we've proven that we can beat anybody and our track record shows that. We beat a 'Final Four' team this season in New Mexico, last year we defeated UC Santa Barbara twice, the year prior to that we defeated UCLA, which was a 'Final Four' team in 2011. This year, we defeated UC Irvine, which was the (Big West) conference champion and was a 'Sweet 16' team this year. Our program has achieved a lot of success, recently, and we're a good team."
What was the biggest benefit of playing such a loaded schedule in 2013?
"I think it helped with every aspect of the program. When you're playing against quality programs, it makes myself a better coach, it makes my assistants work a little bit harder, it puts the student-athletes in a position to compete at the highest level, and that's what I've always promised my student-athletes... I would play the toughest schedule possible and put them in a position to compete against the best, year-in and year-out. There are benefits to playing such a tough schedule. You get the opportunity to beat the top programs and give yourself a chance to build a strong RPI and get into the NCAA Tournament. The downside? You're playing tough teams and, at the elite level when you're talking about the top 40 or 50 programs in the country, it's tough to beat those teams all the time. I would rather give my team the opportunity to do so than not."
The season started out a little slow. What do you think was the turning point to get you over the hump?
"I think part of it is that we seem to hit our peak once we start entering into Big West Conference play and, I feel like, we need to figure out a way to start faster. We need to put our student-athletes in a position, at the beginning of the season, to be at their peak fitness so that, when we start that non-conference schedule, we are ready to go from the very first whistle."
"I think over the past couple of years, we have had some veteran groups entering the season and we've added a couple of new pieces into the mix. It's tough to acclimate to those new guys, however, we've been a veteran group and, I think, we just need to be a little bit sharper, both mentally and physically, when the whistle blows for the very first game. Whether that means our student-athletes are training hard on their own, playing on their club teams back home, or staying in Davis, living all summer here, going to summer school, and having the opportunity to work with our strength and conditioning coaches and training on their own, I think those factors would be a huge asset to our student-athletes and our program as a whole."
Was there a particular match where you thought, 'Hey, we've got something here?'
"I think it was the match at New Mexico, which is a hard place to win (Editor's Note: it was only the 17th loss in 113 matches at the Lobo Soccer Complex for New Mexico to that point). I feel like that match gave us the confidence that we are a very good program, that we are a very good team. That was probably the signature win, to that point, that got us going in the right direction and filled us up with confidence."
How do you carry the momentum of your strong finish to the season into your preparations for 2014?
"The beauty of 2014 is that we have the opportunity to return 21 student-athletes from this year's squad. That's another veteran group of players that is coming in, and recruiting is going extremely well so, I feel like, we're going to be able to add some high-quality players to our program. We've also got some freshmen and redshirts from this season who are, now, going to have a full season in the program under their belt, and I feel like the quality and depth of our team could be even better this next season than it was in 2013."
Your defense this season was so strong, ranking among the top half in the Big West in numerous categories. Is that something you hang your hat on as the "signature" of this 2013 squad?
"We talk a lot about defense. We do train a fair amount on our individual and team tactics, but we don't train as much as someone would think just on defense. The funny thing is, in my coaching career, when I was the head coach at Santa Rosa JC, we had the highest scoring team in the state. When I became an assistant at Clemson, all three years we were the highest scoring team in the nation -- and we played in the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference), which was the toughest men's soccer conference in the country, at the time. Then, here at UC Davis, I have had several teams that have been highly-ranked on the offensive side of the ball. For some reason, recently, it seems like the discussion has been more on how good of a defensive team we are, and I believe in playing solid, hard, defense, but, over the past couple of years, we've talked more in training on our offensive attack than defense. I think our defensive statistics show that we have some quality kids in the program, we had an outstanding goalkeeper over the last few years, we have two excellent central defenders in Ramon Martin Del Campo and Brian Ford, and I think that just shows the quality of those student-athletes has been really good."
"However, I feel like our biggest need, for us to get us over the hump and to move forward, is to find consistent scoring -- and it doesn't have to be just one player, because we have a couple great ones in the program right now who have proven they can score goals in Matt Wiesenfarth and Matt Sheldon -- we just need to get consistency out of all of our players and get a couple more guys to step up and score four or five goals in a season. The game is just so much easier when you're winning 1-0 rather than being tied or down a goal."
"I'm excited about the group that's returning. I feel like Dashiell MacNamara was coming on strong toward the end of the last season. Ian Palmer was a converted defender and has played as a striker for us and had a good year."
Talk about the performances of Matt Wiesenfarth and Matt Sheldon this season. Aside from their scoring ability, what did those two bring to the squad in 2013?
"I feel like both of them are real hard-working kids and they are always looking to improve. Their attitudes are team-oriented, they both want to be professionals, and I'm looking forward to both having outstanding senior seasons. They've already started their training for next year, they're that motivated, which is nice to see. Sheldon just brings a ton of athleticism, speed, desire, all the physical characteristics you could possibly think of. His technical ability and his tactical awareness have improved tremendously in the three years he has been in our program. Wiesenfarth brings just a ton of creativity. He's technically very clean and just scores the spectacular kind of goals. Combined, they add a great mix of pace, power, speed, as well as craftiness, that has been helpful for the program."
Have you seen that rub off on the other players?
"I think what happens is that everybody sees how competitive they are and they feel the collective competitive spirit from a group of our players and I just think it makes our team more competitive day-in and day-out in training."
After this year, you lose a huge piece of your defense in 2013 Big West Goalkeeper of the Year Omar Zeenni. Talk a little bit about what he has meant to the program during his four years.
"Omar has been a pleasure to coach. Great attitude. Great work ethic. As I put it, Omar is a 'soccer junkie.' He's always following our opponents. He's always watching the teams playing at the highest levels all over the world. He wants to be a pro, so he's trained like it. He's made a huge improvement with his physical conditioning over his four years in the program, he's always looking to improve and get better. I think Omar's strengths for our team center around his leadership in the back, he coaches his teammates well from his position, he's always been positive within the team, and he's tactically very aware. He has always been a goalkeeper that reads the danger and cuts the dangers off before the ever really happen. He's also got great instincts when to come off his line. He made just some incredible saves for us throughout his career. He's going to be missed."
How do you replace someone of that caliber?
"We have three really good keepers behind him. Freshman Armando Quezada came in and did an exceptional job for us in a back-up role this year. He played both games against UC Santa Barbara -- and those are two pretty big games for a freshman to step in and play. Another one of our keepers, sophomore Kris Schultz, who was our back-up in 2012 before going down with an injury, is going to be fully recovered for next season and, then, we have a third goalkeeper, who is a little bit different physically (standing 6-foot-5), in sophomore John Piasta. He was an outstanding goalkeeper at the youth level but, then, he didn't play soccer for a few years and contacted us last spring, asked if he could come out, and made our team, and he's developing everyday. So, we have three strong goalkeepers going into the spring season and the competition will be intense for those guys."
Did you have any goals for 2013? Did you reach them?
"Our goal, every year, is to qualify for the Big West Tournament because, if we do that, then we know that we give ourselves an opportunity to make the NCAA Tournament. So, yes, we achieved one of the goals we set for ourselves. However, we're competitive people, we're in a competitive profession and, my goal, as the head coach at UC Davis is to win a national championship. I've looked around and I see other UC programs and I think we're right on par with all of them. My attitude is 'Why not us?' A lot of stuff has to go your way, you have to get a little bit of luck, and everything has to align, but it can be done. We've been a great program for the past several years, we just need to keep working hard, get a little bit of luck on our side, start a little bit faster in our preseason, and we can compete with anybody in the country on any given day. I know we can."
What would you tell fans about what they can look forward to in 2014?
"I think our fans are great supporters of our program and it's nice to see sold-out crowds at our field. I love the environment that our fans create. I think they can expect to see a UC Davis team that this program has become known for: an extremely fast, quick, athletic team, that works their tails off and will fight every minute on the field, compete for every loose ball, and compete to win every single game."
If you could wrap up this season in one word, how would you describe it?
"A word that always seems to pop in my head is 'incredible.' It was an incredible season where we were competitive in every match and it was an incredible experience for our student-athletes. We beat a "Final Four" team out in New Mexico. We defeated the conference champions during the regular season, and that was an incredible game."
Senior goalkeeper Omar Zeenni was named to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America's All-Far West Region Second Team (Dec. 10) following the season, becoming the 21st UC Davis player to earn all-region honors dating back to 1987 (a total of 27 awards).
Zeenni also became the first Aggie to be named the Big West Conference's Goalkeeper of the Year and only the fourth player to earn All-Big West First Team honors (the first since Lance Patterson in 2011).
Freshman Dashiell MacNamara became the first UC Davis rookie to be named to the Big West All-Freshman Team.
AGGIES VS. THE NCAA FIELD
UC Davis faced six teams that eventually advanced to the 2013 NCAA Tournament, including national seeds New Mexico (No. 7), UC Santa Barbara (No. 10), UC Irvine (No. 12), and Cal State Northridge (No. 15), finishing with a 3-3-2 overall record against those squads.
The Aggies' three wins against the field came against Seattle (Second Round) by a, 1-0, score on Sept. 6; nationally ranked New Mexico (National Semifinalist) by a, 2-1, score in Albuquerque on Sept. 27; and nationally ranked UC Irvine ("Sweet 16") by a, 2-0, score on Oct. 4.
UC Davis also battled to draws with Loyola Marymount (1-1) on Sept. 22, and nationally ranked UC Santa Barbara (1-1) on Nov. 2 -- both contests coming on the road.
Zeenni wrapped up a stellar collegiate career with a pair of school records in 2013, becoming the Aggies' all-time saves leader on Oct. 11 at Cal State Fullerton to break Nic Platter's 10-year-old mark of 195 that had stood since 2003. The senior finished his career with 215 career stops.
Zeenni added a second career record in the regular season finale at Sacramento State, posting his 18th career shutout to break a tie with Platter atop the school's all-time list.
Zeenni also ended his career among the Big West Conference's all-time best, finishing tied for 10th in career shutouts, fifth in minutes played (6,238), fifth in matches played (69), and eighth in goalkeeper victories (29).
Junior forwards Matt Sheldon and Matt Wiesenfarth give Aggie fans a lot to look forward to in 2014 after stellar offensive showings this past season. The duo combined for 12 of the team's 20 goals and nearly half of the team's 58 points, each finishing with six goals and an assist on the season while appearing in all 21 matches.
Need a game-winner? The duo was also happy to oblige, combining for six of the Aggies' nine game-winning goals in 2013 (three apiece).
Wiesenfarth caught fire during Big West Conference play, scoring five of his six goals against league foes to lead the team in Big West matches.
The six goals by Sheldon were a career high while the 13 points fell just one shy of his previous two seasons combined (14 points on five goals and four assists).
The six goals and 13 points were the most for a UC Davis player since Lance Patterson finished with the same totals in 2010.
UC Davis was a combined 9-1-2 when either Sheldon or Wiesenfarth scored a goal, as the duo scored in the same match only twice on the year: at UC Riverside on Oct. 13 and vs. Cal Poly on Nov. 6.
Freshman Dashiell MacNamara had a solid start to his collegiate career, finishing his inaugural Division I campaign with three goals and an assist to end the year tied for third on the team in scoring.
Two of his three goals were game-winners for the Aggies, clinching victories over nationally ranked UC Irvine (Oct. 4) and UC Riverside (Nov. 12) in the first round of the Big West Tournament. His third goal of the year gave UC Davis an early lead on the road against Cal Poly in a match that finished in a 1-1 draw.
The Aggies finished the 2013 season with a 5-4 record at the Aggie Soccer Field, finishing with a winning record at home for the fourth-consecutive season. UC Davis hasn't finished with a losing record at home since 2009 when the Aggies were 3-4 at the friendly confines.
UC Davis is a combined 90-43-13 (.661) at home in 17 seasons under the direction of Head Coach Dwayne Shaffer.