Aggies continue WWPA play at Fresno Pacific Sunday

Through 16 games, junior Cory Laidig has shot a career-high .552 (16-for-29) to go with 12 assists and 21 steals. (Wayne Tilcock,
Oct. 11, 2016

DAVIS, Calif. - When the Schaal Aquatics Center water finally calmed after Sunday’s UC Davis-UCLA men’s water polo game, both teams had reason to feel accomplished.

The top-ranked Bruins came away with a 15-8 victory for their record-breaking 52nd consecutive win, breaking Stanford’s previous benchmark that had stood for some three decades. Head coach Adam Wright recorded his milestone 200th victory in the process. However, Aggie head coach Daniel Leyson – a former UCLA assistant who once served as Wright’s coached – saw his team post one of its best performances of the year, albeit in a loss, against the single toughest opponent of the year.

“I think the energy level that we brought to that game was awesome,” said Leyson. “We approached it with intelligence but innocence.”

By intelligence, UC Davis handled itself well in the face of the intense pressure for which the top-tier programs are known. The Aggies made very few unforced errors, and did not allow the Bruins a counterattack goal. As for innocence, UC Davis took on the two-time defending champions with no fear. 

“You want to understand their tendencies, and respect them as phenomenal players, because they’re among the best in the country,” Leyson said. “But you also want to be a little innocent about it, to go out, play good defense, go toe to toe with them, and see what happens. I thought we did a really good job with that. The energy level was good and we were able to execute some of the things we talked about.”

Goals by Tennyson May and Spencer Galli kick-started UC Davis to a 2-0 lead in the first period, while Cory Laidig’s power-play conversion pulled the Aggies to within just three goals in the third quarter. In all, UC Davis’ eight goals represents the most scored against UCLA since Johns Hopkins and Princeton netted totals of eight and nine, but the Blue Jays and Tigers also surrendered 38 total goals and trailed by double figures by the third quarter.

“We got some stuff done against UCLA, just like we got some stuff done against Cal,” said Leyson, referring to his team’s similarly strong showing against the then-No. 3 Golden Bears three weeks prior. “It’s no small feat. Other teams haven’t been able to do anything against them, and we were able to execute some things.”

Most important to Leyson, Sunday’s game against UCLA and Thursday’s conference win at Cal Baptist provided invaluable learning moments for UC Davis moving forward. After all, the veteran coach still sees plenty of room for improvement, which hopefully translates to an even stronger team by the time the Aggies reach the most important part of the schedule – that is, the WWPA tournament.

Sophomore Sasa Antunovic showed his abilities at both ends of the pool throughout the weekend. He led UC Davis in scoring with four goals at CBU, while his play-making skills resulted in three assists and a career-best five steals against UCLA. Galli paced the Aggies with two goals on Sunday, making the season-ending highlight reels with his teardrop lob that eluded goalkeeper and defending NCAA Player of the Year Garrett Danner. 

Junior goalkeeper Spencer Creed was instrumental in holding CBU to just four goals, not so much in terms of stopping shots but rather in preventing anything out of two meters: he followed up his five-steal performance at Santa Clara with a whopping nine thefts against the Lancers.

Next on tap for UC Davis is another conference game, this time at Fresno Pacific. The Sunbirds went 3-1 at the Gary Troyer Memorial Tournament last weekend, ending the tourney with a 12-10 overtime thriller vs. Chapman. Senior David Maes scored 14 goals in the four games, including five tallies in Saturday’s 13-9 win over Cal Lutheran. 

FPU may be unranked with only one victory against a Top 20 team (San Jose State, at the Aggie Roundup), but Leyson looks for his Aggies to put up the same sustained effort against the Sunbirds as they did against the Bruins one week earler. After all, in the team’s previous visit, UC Davis needed a late charge to pull away from a close 7-7 battle early in the fourth quarter.

Then again, Leyson expects his team to maintain full focus and concentration for all 32 minutes regardless of opponent. This is the staple of the very best programs, like USC and UCLA. Champion programs don’t have a dimmer switch they turn on or off for different opponents.

“There’s a reason for that: they try to approach every game in the same way,” said Leyson, who previously coached at USC before taking over the UC Davis helm. “It’s a dangerous game to try to turn it on for this game and not turn it on for the next one. Coaches never want to do that. We’re striving every day for consistency at a high level.”

Sunday’s game takes place at 2 p.m. at the Sunnyside Aquatics Center at Sunnyside High School.

SKIP SHOTS: The four goals allowed at Cal Baptist is the lowest for the year, save for the 21-2 exhibition win against American River College at the Aggie Roundup... The last time UC Davis surrendered fewer was the 10-3 road victory at San Jose State on Sept. 12, 2015... Thanks to his nine picks on Thursday, goalie Spencer Creed now has 32 steals on the year and 122 for his career... That ties him for second in the program’s recorded history, oddly matching the man who (among other things) compiles the stats: assistant coach Kevin Peat amassed 122 steals in his decorated career from 2008-11... Only Mike McGee has more, with 168 from 2004-07.

Of eight Aggie players with double-digit goals thus far, three are shooting .500 or better: Riley Venne (20-for-40, .500), Cory Laidig (16-for-29, .552) and Marcus Anderson (22-for-39, .564)... The last team to boast that many scorers with at least 20 goals and a .500 percentage was the 2011 squad: Luke Collins shot a school-record .673 (35-52), Russell Hampton went .522 (35-67), Chris Richardson finished at .519 (42-81) and Aaron Salit at .503 (83-165).