Oct. 7, 2013
DAVIS, Calif. - A strong performance in the home-opening weekend followed by a series of intense intrasquad scrimmages - plus the annual alumni game - lead the No. 14 UC Davis men's water polo team into the tough UC Irvine Invitational, held at Anteater Aquatics Complex and Corona Del Mar High School this Saturday and Sunday.
With a 5-6 overall record, the Aggies hold the No. 13 seed in a tournament field that features 15 of the top 16 programs in the country, plus the No. 3 Division III team (Pomona-Pitzer). UC Davis will open with Stanford at 10:50 a.m, then take on either California or UC San Diego on Saturday afternoon.
The first-day opener will serve as a rematch for the Aggies' loss to the Cardinal at the NorCal Invite back on September 21. In the same way head coach Daniel Leyson felt his young team improved in the three weeks between meetings with Cal, he hopes the UC Davis-Stanford game can provide another progress report.
"When you're a young and inexperienced team and you're a little undersized, the top four or five teams will try to sustain a press the whole time - try to force a steal on the outside and push a counterattack," said Leyson. "It's an excellent opportunity for us to play against this type of team and try to control the ball. That's the main goal for us, to control the ball. We do not want to turn it over and let them rev up their engines and go on us."
Although the actual scores were similar, Leyson drew promise with the way UC Davis competed in its second meeting against No. 4 Cal at the Aggie Shootout two weeks ago. UC Davis lost by a 14-4 final before claiming a come-from-behind win against Redlands, then beating Fresno Pacific the next day. "We really focused on controlling the ball and handling that press," said Leyson. "I thought we did a better job than we had in the past against Cal. I was pleased overall with our execution and the opportunities that we created."
The Aggies also showed some mettle by overcoming a 7-3 deficit by scoring eight unanswered goals in the second half in that win over Redlands. Coming off a tough opponent like Cal then facing a solid No. 18 Bulldog program was bound to test the team.
"It was our home opener with quite a few people there. I don't think I was the only one who was thinking, `we have to get going here,'" Leyson said. "And we did. It was great that the guys were able to dig deep like that. They showed that we've been working really hard, that we're in shape and that we can come back."
The Aggie Shootout also provided the opportunity for many players to contribute. Entering that tournament, senior Bernie Rogers and junior Chris Richardson had accounted to 32 of the Aggies' 72 goals. Richardson continued to lead the scoring charge with another six in the three-game tourney, but junior center Teddy Nicholson netted two goals while Trevor Allen performed his first hat trick to go with three steals in the Redlands win. A day later, sophomore Alex Bagdasarian, freshman Zoltan Lazar and freshman Max Vigeant also enjoyed their first three-goal performances. Redshirt freshman Jacob Ley had led UC Davis with two goals in the opening loss to Cal.
Looking ahead, the prospect of facing four ranked opponents - plus the chances of taking on WWPA rivals UC San Diego and Loyola Marymount along the way - is a welcome concept for Leyson. No excuses, he says, no reasons why his Aggies should not be able to execute at a high level.
"It will be a really tough tournament. The potential for a lot of strong games is great for us. I'm always happy to get down there, see all of the top teams, and see what we can do against them. Little by little, we are slowly progressing and having more success."
SKIP SHOTS: The only team among the October 2 top 16 poll not in attendance at Irvine will be No. 13 Princeton, which will stay home to host Johns Hopkins and Navy... Among WWPA teams, LMU holds the 10th seed while UC San Diego is 12th and Santa Clara is 14th in the UCI field... With 20 goals for the year, Chris Richardson has moved into eighth on the program's career goals list with 129... Four more will move him past Pat Foster (1993-96)... STANFORD (8-2) rolled past Santa Clara in its lone contest last week... Sophomore driver and U.S. Senior National Team member Bret Bonanni scored six goals to lead the Farm offensively... Like UC Davis, UC SAN DIEGO (7-8, 1-0) has faced almost nothing but ranked opposition... The Tritons battled then-No. 4 California to a tough 13-10 loss earlier this season... They also upset then-No. 8 LMU on Sept. 25, which bumped them up two spots in the poll to No. 12... CALIFORNIA (8-3) surrendered three unanswered goals down the stretch in a 7-6 televised loss to No. 3 Pacific on Saturday... Senior attacker Collin Smith leads the Golden Bears with 22 goals while junior defender Aleksa Saponjic has 17.