Oct. 29, 2013
DAVIS, Calif. - Despite a pair of losses in the second day of Santa Clara's Rodeo tournament, UC Davis head men's water polo coach Daniel Leyson found several positives to take from an otherwise up-and-down tournament in which the Aggies went 2-2 against Top 20 foes.
"The bottom line is that we did excellent in the game that matters most, and that's our conference game against Cal Baptist," Leyson said. "We played what is probably our best game of the year. Our defense was really strong and we scored 13 goals. The other games, as difficult as they were, have no importance in conference."
After dispatching No. 17 Cal Baptist by a 13-3 final in the first countable game toward the Western Water Polo Association standings, the 11th-ranked Aggies followed with a hard-fought 8-7 victory over No. 18 Bucknell before falling to No. 19 Harvard (14-11) and No. 20 Brown (9-8) on Sunday.
Junior Chris Richardson led UC Davis offensively with eight goals while drawing 12 exclusions and penalties. Sophomore Philip Bates enjoyed arguably his finest goalkeeping performance of the year in the victory over the Lancers. He posted 15 saves with just the three goals against, adding four assists and his lone assist of the tournament.
Even more crucial, according to Leyson, is that the Saturday morning win provides the clearest indication of what his team is capable of. The Rodeo tournament is the last time UC Davis will have to play multiple games in a day, let alone pack in a four-game tournament in two days. Four Aggies - Richardson, junior Trevor Allen, senior Bernie Rogers and sophomore Austin Beckwith - average 20 or minutes per game. Any team relying on so few veterans would eventually feel the effects of fatigue over the course of a four-game weekend.
"It's not as important now how we played in the fourth game on Sunday because from here on out, it's one game per day," Leyson said. "When we were fresh, we played great, and that's what I take from the weekend.
"Our team is a working-class, blue-collar kind of team that has to be committed to grinding it out every game, playing and working as a team as hard as we possibly can. There are a lot of moments when we do that. They key is doing it consistently for an entire game, with no letdown."
The UC Davis squad now heads into perhaps its most important weekend of the season, at least in terms of WWPA tournament seeding. Unlike previous years, all of the conference games are packed into the final few weeks leading up the championship, which takes place on Nov. 22-24 in Davis. No. 13 Loyola Marymount was chosen as the preseason favorite back in August, while No. 11 UC San Diego moved past the Lions in the rankings two weeks ago. LMU won seven of the last 10 conference titles. UCSD has made the final in each of the last two, edging UC Davis in the 2011 to snare the league's NCAA automatic qualifier. Making the trip even tougher is the schedule: the Aggies face the Lions on Friday afternoon, then drive down to La Jolla for a 1 p.m. start on Saturday.
Loyola Marymount (11-10) overcame an early 5-4 deficit to defeat No. 20 Air Force in its first home game in a month last Sunday. Milutin Mitrovic scored five goals in the win, aiding in a 10-2 run that ultimately boosted the Lions to the conference win. Mitrovic, one of two Serbian players on the roster, paces LMU with 53 goals.
UC San Diego (11-10) followed its 9-7 upset of LMU at the UC Irvine Invitational two weeks ago with a 15-10 win over Air Force last Friday. Sophomore Chase Cockrell, junior Joe Dietrich, junior Tommy Friedrich and junior Matt Michalko each scored hat tricks against the Falcons while junior and WWPA saves leader Cameron Ravanbach blocked 15 shots.
Needless to say, the gravity of the upcoming weekend is not lost on Leyson. "We have been looking at this moment on the schedule for a long time, knowing that we would go down and face some very adverse circumstances. Playing at LMU is a tough place to play, then we get into our cars to San Diego, which is an even more difficult place to play. We've said from day one that we will have no excuses. Adversity will always be there, and it's how we respond."
The Aggies will have a short practice week, working out on Wednesday before using Thursday as a travel day.
SKIP SHOTS: Junior Chris Richardson logged 107 minutes played in the four games at the Rodeo, raising his team-high average to 22.5... Trevor Allen (21.7), Bernie Rogers (21.5) and Austin Beckwith (20.1) also see more than 20 minutes of tank time per contest... Richardson leads UC Davis in scoring with 41 goals, eight more than Allen and 10 ahead of Rogers... However, Rogers paces the Aggies in total points as he has also managed 23 assists... LMU has largely owned the head-to-head series with UC Davis in recent years, winning 15 of 19 during the last decade... The last Aggie victory over the Lions came in the 2011 WWPA semifinal: a 7-6 win behind four Aaron Salit goals... UC Davis defeated then-No. 13 UCSD at the UCI Invite on Oct. 12, snapping a six-game losing streak during the 2011 and 2012 seasons.