Feb. 8, 2013
Men's soccer head coach Dwayne Shaffer might have a new lucky number for the 2013 season: 27.
After graduating just three seniors from the 2012 squad that won the Big West Conference North Division title, Shaffer returns 27 players for the 2013 season.
And not just any players. Goalkeeper Omar Zeenni is just five shutouts away from becoming UC Davis' all-time career leader. The Aggie backline, including Brian Ford who has spent just 33 minutes of his entire two-year Aggie career on the sidelines, will be back. Last year, Ford, Ramon Martin Del Campo, Alex Henry, Ryan Gross and Mustafa Chopan allowed just 20 goals, the fewest since the 2008 season. Only Chopan will be missing from the starting lineup in 2013.
The list just grows from there. In a season where 12 different players scored at least one goal, all but one will be back in Aggie blue and gold for 2013.
Shaffer has 27 different weapons to choose from when deciding on a starting lineup for 2013.
For as much success as UC Davis saw at the end of the year, the 2012 season didn't get off to as strong of a start as Shaffer and the team had hoped. After a season-opening win over UNLV on Aug. 24, the Aggies tied their next four straight matches, all of which were played on the road. From there, UC Davis lost four of its next five games.
"Our record wasn't as strong as we wanted it to be," said Shaffer. "We played an extremely difficult nonconference schedule and we just weren't sharp enough around the goal. Once we identified the players that were most capable of scoring and implemented a system that played to our strengths, I felt like that's when we started to play better soccer and scored more goals."
That change came midway through the season and just after the start of Big West Conference play. After a 2-0 loss to Cal State Northridge to start league action, the Aggies answered back in a big way, taking down UC Irvine 3-1 to spark a four-game winning streak.
Going into the UC Irvine game, we tweaked our system of play a little bit, moved some guys into different spots and it clicked," said Shaffer. "It just started to wokr for us. We went to Irvine and played really well and finally some of the breaks began to go our way when it came to scoring goals. It propelled us into the rest of hte season."
That slight tweak to the system turned UC Davis into a Big West force and led to the first-ever Aggie sweep over UC Santa Barbara which ranked as high as eighth nationally when UC Davis took a 1-0 win in front of 1,300 fans in Davis on Oct. 13. The Aggies also swept crosstown rivals Sacramento State, including a 2-1 victory behind two goals from Matt Wiesenfarth in Davis on Nov. 3.
From there it was on to the Big West Tournament. UC Davis had made the postseason trip on three different occasions, yet could not advance past the first round. Until 2012.
Matt Sheldon struck first, then Ian Palmer scored his first career goal to seal a 2-0 victory over Cal State Fullerton in front of a soldout crowd at Aggie Soccer Field.
In its first-ever Big West Tournament championship game, UC Davis took on South Division champions Cal State Northridge and Big West Goalkeeper of the Year Michael Abalos and were edged 1-0 in a televised match in Davis.
"The first thing that stands out as to why we were so successful this year is the chemistry within the team," said Shaffer. "We are a tight-knit group and have bonded from the very first day. Secondly, these guys have finally matured and acclimated to playing at the highest level of Div. I athletics. The overall talent on the team is really good. We've got some great players in our team who can play against the top-20 ranked teams in the country on a consistent basis."
Three Aggies received All-Big West Conference accolades at the end of the season. Kevin Schulte earned his second straight all-conference second team selection while Zeenni and Henry picked up honorable mention awards.
So, to recap, 2012 featured the best win total since 2008, the most goals in four years and one of the top defenses in the Big West Conference. Tack on a division title and a trip to the tournament championship in front of a national audience and that wraps up one of the most successful seasons in program history.
What could be left for the Aggie men's soccer team?
A conference championship and a berth to the NCAA Tournament to start. And 27 student-athletes can't wait to bring both to Davis.