Nov. 4, 2013
DAVIS, Calif. -
The 17th-ranked UC Davis men's water polo team comes off a weekend in which it upset both No. 12 Loyola Marymount and No. 10 UC San Diego, back-to-back, with 115 driving miles and less than a day's rest in between. However, as a veteran coach like Daniel Leyson knows, his team faces an even tougher challenge: maintaining the level of intensity that resulted in the two victories and kept the Aggies unbeaten in the Western Water Polo Association standings.
"It's a satisfying feeling and we all feel good right now, but we have to be careful to keep our feet planted squarely on the ground," said Leyson. "This can be a fleeting feeling. We can't forget just how hard we've worked to get to a point where this was possible, going through the process, then actually having a little bit of success. It feels great, but we have to keep our eyes focused on what's coming up because that's what really matters."
Sporting a 3-0 conference record, UC Davis now looks ahead to the final regular-season games against Santa Clara, which moved up to No. 14 in last week's CWPA Top 20 rankings; and Air Force, the defending WWPA champion. The upcoming weekend will finalize the seedings for the conference championship tournament, held at Schaal Aquatics Center on Nov. 22-24.
"Any way you slice it, these are two tough games coming up," Leyson said. "Santa Clara beat LMU by four goals, and Air Force is a strong program. We have to keep our heads down and keep working."
Senior Bernie Rogers enjoyed an outstanding overall weekend in Southern California, scoring a career-high five goals in Friday's win at LMU then hitting the game-winner in the first sudden-victory period to beat UCSD on Saturday. For the trip, he finished with 6-for-12 shooting, three assists, four steals and a field block. Junior center Teddy Nicholson led the Aggies with four goals in the win over the Tritons, netting one from two meters in overtime.
Sophomore Austin Beckwith
tallied three goals with four assists in the two games, but his unsung contribution came in the SV period: UCSD's David Higgins was charged with an exclusion with one second left in the previous overtime period. If they could win the sprint, the Aggies would not only take the critical first possession but would do so with a 6-on-5 advantage. Beckwith outraced his Triton counterpart, and UC Davis began the seventh frame with a power play.
"This was more of an overall, complete game rather than an instance where maybe the counterattack or the 6-on-5 was strong," said Leyson. "We've had gradual improvement in all facets of the game. Our 6-on-5 execution can still get better, our 5-on-6 was pretty good, and those are keys to game.
Santa Clara (14-12, 2-1) has undergone a rollercoaster ride during the recent weeks. The Broncos scored wins against Top 20 teams Harvard, Brown and Bucknell at their own Rodeo tournament two weekends ago, then lost to UC San Diego and Pomona-Pitzer last Friday and Saturday, respectively. SCU then turned around to score a 10-6 upset of Loyola Marymount on Sunday. Senior Tucker Carlson leads the Broncos with 33 goals while Theo Nasser - one of three players to net two goals against LMU - ranks second on the team with 27.
Air Force (5-11, 1-2) lost a 16-13 barnburner at LMU on Oct. 27 before taking a break from competition last weekend. Senior attacker Josh Stedman leads the Falcons with 40 goals and 28 steals, shining as a bright spot in a frustrating season for the defending conference champs: AFA has lost five goals by two goals or less, including overtime setbacks to UC Davis and Redlands, plus a previous 12-11 heartbreaker to the Lions back in late September.
The strength of these opponents aside, Leyson continues to concern himself more with his own team than the one lining up on the opposite end of the course. As well as his Aggies performed to pick up its two crucial conference wins, he still sees the pendulum swinging in the right direction: "The encouraging thing is that there are still areas where we can get much better. I don't expect a revelation, it's a step-by-step process."
UC Davis hosts Santa Clara on Sunday, then brings in Air Force for a rare Monday matchup. Both contests start at 1 p.m. at Schaal Aquatics Center. Tickets are available at tickets.ucdavis.edu