Jan. 27, 2010
The 2009 UC Davis men's soccer season brought forth new challenges and a host of new talent as the Aggies persevered through injury, inexperience and a schedule that had the team on the road for eight of the first 10 games. Yet, despite a 6-12-1 overall record and a 3-7 record in Big West Conference play, head coach Dwayne Shaffer looks at the 2009 season as a complete learning experience and a season that has set a foundation for many more years of success.
"To get a young group of players like this and start grooming them and teaching them how to win is a diffficult process," said Shaffer. "But we have a great group of young guys in the program right now who are going to get better and better and better."
The group of young players that Shaffer refers to is the class of 10 true freshmen and five redshirt freshman that comprised the core of the Aggie squad. It was a difficult task and Shaffer realized that the newest Aggies had much more to learn than just the rigors of playing soccer at the NCAA Division I level.
"There's a lot more to it than just playing soccer," said Shaffer. "It's learning about the travel, training [and] the academic side of things and acclimating to a college program and to one another. Once we did come together as a team towards the end of the season, our training sessions were awesome, our attitude was outstanding and I thought the play on the field was improving on a daily basis."
The improvement definitely showed as the Aggies opened the season by winning the UNLV Nike Invitational with victories over Robert Morris and Central Arkansas. Overall, there were 11 games that were decided by only one goal and four games that advanced to double overtime. The season was highlighted by a 1-0 win over crosstown rival Sacramento State where redshirt freshman John Joslin scored the gamewinner in the 54th minute and a 2-1 double overtime victory against UC Irvine to open Big West Conference play. UC Davis also topped Cal Poly 2-0 on Senior Day with both goals fittingly scored by senior Chris Leer.
The season was also marked by a challenging nonconference schedule and the always difficult Big West Conference slate of games, but the young Aggie squad showed resilience and determination and learned to gel with the upperclassmen. Of the 20 goals UC Davis scored in 2009, one was scored by true freshman Dan Reese and three were from Joslin. Additionally, three Aggie true freshmen recorded assists and six posted shots, proving that the eager new faces were ready to compete.
"That was part of the process when we told the current freshmen on the team that they would have a great opportunity to step in and play. And they did," said Shaffer. "They got to play. I believe in our final games when we were playing at home against Cal Poly and then at UC Santa Barbara, we had eight freshmen on the field."
Of the 19 games that UC Davis played, eight matches were against opponents who had qualified for the 2008 NCAA Tournament. The Aggies were 3-6 in nonconference play, but the true reward for Shaffer lies in the experience that his team gets for playing true Division I powerhouses.
"We've played extremely tough schedules and that's sort of my philosophy. We'll play anybody anywhere and we'll try to play the toughest opponents we possibly can," said Shaffer. "We played all of those tough games with a young team and we went on the road for a lot of those games, but we were in most of the games and in many of them we had the lead. Ultimately the experience factor kind of won out against us, but we did play good soccer all year and we were competitive in every game we played."
In conference play, the Aggies' Big West record was highlighted by a double overtime win at UC Irvine to open conference play as well a 2-0 victory over Cal Poly on Senior Day at Aggie Soccer Stadium. UC Davis also stayed close with Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge in each of their meetings.
Although not as prominent, injuries also played a role as another challenge that UC Davis had to face. Freshman Pat Reese and junior Miles Hadley were forced to redshirt the season and could have added depth at the striker position, while junior goalkeeper Ryan McCowan missed the final two games of the season with injury.
Looking back on the season, Shaffer understands that the reward lies in the experience his young players gained by being asked to step into the spotlight so quickly in their Aggie careers. These players now understand what it takes to be part of an elite Division I program and have now experienced everything that goes with it. Now there's nowhere to go but up.
"Once we begin the spring games, then it's finding the group of players that gel well together, that will compete for each other during the spring so that by the end of the spring season we as a coaching staff will have identified a group of 15 or so players that we can rely on to go right into the fall season," said Shaffer.
The future looks bright for the Aggie men's soccer team who see the 2009 season as a stepping stone to achieving big things down the road. Moving into the 2010 season, Shaffer now has a group of players who are ready to compete at an even higher level.
"They're motivated and they're enthused and they're excited about the future and so am I," said Shaffer.