Oct. 21, 2013
DAVIS, Calif. - The downside of facing the country's elite programs is taking the lumps. The 11th-ranked UC Davis men's water polo team surrendered a total of 41 goals in its weekend slate of No. 3 Pacific and No. 4 Stanford, moving to 7-10 for the year. The upside, first-year head coach Daniel Leyson hopes, is that the Aggies will be stronger for it as they head to Santa Clara's Rodeo tournament on Saturday and Sunday.
"That ends our `preseason.' It went all the way to October 20," Leyson said. "We went through all those tournaments, all those tough teams. We played Pacific, Stanford and Cal. The biggest mistake would be to not learn from these games."
Indeed, the Aggies faced nine Top 10 opponents in their first 17 games. In comparison, the 2010 and 2011 UC Davis teams each played nine all season. Last year's squad had 10 such opponents in 32 contests. Even the 2007 Aggies, who were a No. 9 program themselves, only played half of the six Top 5 teams faced by this year's squad.
"The value of playing these teams can't be calculated," said Leyson. "If our players can learn from their mistakes, and emulate what these more experienced players do, it can be really valuable. We can think, `This player did this to me, now I'm going to try to do that to someone else.'"
Two program veterans, juniors Chris Richardson and Trevor Allen, scored two goals each in the two weekend games. Freshman Max Vigeant also netted a goal in each contest and drew three exclusions in Friday's scorefest against Pacific.
Looking ahead, UC Davis now sets its sights on four tough games in Santa Clara. The better-forged Aggies will rematch with Cal Baptist, who they defeated by a two-goal margin in the 2013 season opener; then Collegiate Water Polo Association members Bucknell, Harvard and Brown.
Of course, as Leyson is quick to mention, while these four teams may seem like relief compared to last week's powerhouses, they are all quality teams in their own right. CBU scored an 11-8 upset of No. 16 St. Francis and fell just shy of upsetting No. 13 UC San Diego two weekends ago, then delivered a 9-7 victory against Air Force last Friday. Senior Matt Puig ranks second among WWPA leaders with 47 goals.
Bucknell, ranked as high as No. 14 earlier in the season, earned a return to the national rankings with a decisive 12-5 upset of 12th-ranked Princeton in their last action on October 13. Senior Jack Else and junior Keegan Williams were selected as CWPA Southern Division Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week after that win. Else leads the Bison in goals (38) and drawn ejections (50) through 14 contests this year.
No. 17 Harvard has gone 8-1 since beginning CWPA play, most recently falling to Brown, 12-9, then beating Penn's club program, 22-11 at the Ivy League Championship last weekend. Sophomore Noah Harrison leads the Crimson with 42 goals, 21 assists and 43 steals, but it's the team's saves leader whose name should be familiar to UC Davis fans: sophomore Colin Woolway (129 blocks) is the cousin of Aggie volleyball player and all-time assists leader Jenny Woolway.
Brown is the only unranked opponent on UC Davis' Rodeo slate, but the Bears hovered in the lower teens to start the year and have shown plenty of might this season. They have beaten Harvard twice, while battling St. Francis to a single goal twice. Last weekend, after dispatching the Crimson in the Ivy League Championship semifinal, Brown fell to No. 15 Princeton by just a 13-12 margin. Sophomore utility Will Klein scored six goals in the victory over Harvard, while junior and leading scorer Hank Fox (51-for-110) had two goals in each end of the doubleheader.
"We don't take anyone for granted. It would be ridiculous to look past anyone," warns Leyson. "Cal Baptist has had some good wins and tough losses. They're a tough opponent with a very good coach. We had a close game against them in the preseason, and I expect them to be ready to come after us. So we have to be ready for them. Then after that, we have three East Coast teams that we've never seen and know nothing about. That's dangerous."
In the end, as he has stated all season, Leyson is less concerned with the opponent on the opposite end of the course, and more interested in those wearing the blue and gold caps. His objective is to return home on Sunday, knowing that his relatively young UC Davis squad has grown from its preseason grind.
"We need to strive to improve in all aspects of our game: the defense, the counter, front-court offense, counter defense, 5-on-6 and 6-on-5. We want all of it to be better. Hopefully, after playing teams that aren't as strong as Stanford, we can see that we executed our game plan better, and that we gained from the experience of playing the opponents that we faced last weekend."
SKIP SHOTS: The Saturday times for The Rodeo differs slightly from previously published schedules... UC Davis will face Cal Baptist at 9:20 a.m. then Bucknell at 2:40 p.m.... The Sunday times remain the same: Harvard at 8 a.m., Brown at 10:40 a.m.... The tournament website is located at http://www.santaclarabroncos.com/sports/m-wpolo/2013-14/rodeo_central...
The Aggies' 2013 schedule has more ranked teams than any other in the available history of the program (since 1991)... In fact, of the 28 total games on the calendar (17 to date, eight more before conference, plus three at the WWPA Championship), all but one will feature an opponent that appeared in the CWPA Top 20 at some point this year... Fresno Pacific is the lone team that never made the rankings... A major reason for the tougher schedule: this is the first time UC Davis has had no obligation to schedule the Division III SCIAC schools, which used to be members of the WWPA.