Nov. 16, 2011
DAVIS, Calif. - Geographically speaking for the UC Davis men's water polo team, the road to the 2011 NCAA Championship consists mostly of a 60-mile stretch of Interstate 80. This year's tournament takes place from December 3-4 at Cal's Spieker Aquatics Center, where the Aggies began the season with hearty battles against the host Golden Bears and then-No. 5 Pacific.
However, the true path to the national tournament goes through the Western Water Polo Association men's championship, hosted at UC San Diego's Canyonview Aquatic Center from Thursday through Sunday. The winner of the conference title game - which UC Davis reached in 2007 and 2010 - earns an automatic berth to the NCAA stage.
Owning a 20-11 overall record, an 11-4 WWPA mark and seven wins against teams ranked in the national Top 20, 12th-ranked UC Davis has earned the fourth seed and a Thursday bye in the conference tournament. The Aggies will take on the winner of the Air Force-Occidental game in their Friday quarterfinal contest at 1:30 p.m.
As is typical, UC Davis has faced a wide range of opponents, posting a 9-9 record against teams in the Top 20. Among the highlights of the season was a ninth-place finish at the NorCal Invitational in mid-September, a tournament showing that put the Aggies into the top 10 for the first time in almost four years. Oddly, one of the most promising performances came in a loss: UC Davis dropped an 8-7 battle with then-No. 5 Pacific on the season's opening day, having led well into the fourth quarter.
Individually, two seniors have been particularly noteworthy in the team's success this season. Center Aaron Salit has followed up his 2011 ACWPC All-America honorable mention with a conference-leading 75 goals this year. He earned his second consecutive All-WWPA first-team award earlier this week. Goalkeeper Kevin Peat has tallied 299 saves in 31 games entering the WWPA tournament, putting him within striking range of Mike McGee's school record of 330. Additionally, Peat leads the league with 42 steals and a save percentage of .558 (299 saves to 237 goals allowed).
Two fourth-year veterans have also enjoyed career years. Redshirt junior Russell Hampton has tallied 33 goals and a team-leading 34 assists. Senior Luke Collins has shot 33-for-44 (.750) after scoring just 17 goals in his three previous years. He also has drawn 17 kickouts and paces the Aggies with 11 field blocks. Over the previous weekend, Collins tallied six assists against Cal and Stanford to lift his season total to 24.
Junior Colin Hicks joined Salit on the all-conference team, garnering second-team distinction, while Chris Richardson made the WWPA All-Freshman squad. Hicks has contributed 30 goals with 20 assists and 23 steals. Richardson ranks second on the team with 37 goals despite missing the first weekend due to injury.
UC Davis faced each of its potential Friday opponents in tournament action this season. The Aggies took a 19-4 win over Occidental as part of the Aggie Shootout tournament on September 25, then more recently claimed a 15-8 victory over Air Force at Santa Clara's Rodeo Tournament.
Among the top seeds in the conference, UC Davis split games against Santa Clara, dropping a 9-6 upset at home on October 9. The Broncos more recently lost back-to-back games to UCSD (14-7) and LMU (11-2) before picking up an 11-9 win over Chapman. Theo Nasser leads SCU with 41 goals and 56 drawn exclusions (47 majors, nine five-meter).
The Aggies went 0-2 against UC San Diego this year, falling just short of a valiant fourth-quarter comeback in an 11-10 setback at the SoCal Invite; then losing by a 10-6 final just two weeks ago. The Tritons finished their regular season with scrappy performances against two top-five teams: a 9-4 loss to No. 1 UCLA and a 15-11 loss to No. 5 UC Irvine.
UC Davis also lost its only season matchup against Loyola Marymount, falling 8-5 on the afternoon after the second matchup at UCSD. That contest fell in the middle of a six-game winning streak for the Lions, who finished their regular season with a 14-11 loss to eighth-ranked Long Beach State.
The Aggies last won the WWPA title in 1996 and 1997. The 1996 team was the first in program history to enjoy a 20-win season, a feat matched by the 2007 squad and this year's team.
2011 WWPA MEN'S CHAMPIONSHIP
Hosted by UC San Diego Canyonview Aquatic Center
THURSDAY, NOV. 17
Game 1: No. 5 Air Force vs. No. 12 Occidental, 1:30 p.m.
Game 2: No. 6 Pomona-Pitzer vs. No. 11 La Verne, 3 p.m.
Game 3: No. 7 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps vs. No. 10 Whittier, 4:30 p.m.
Game 4: No. 8 Redlands vs. No. 9 Chapman, 6 p.m.
FRIDAY, NOV. 18
Game 5: Loser 1 vs. Loser 4, 10:30 a.m.
Game 6: Loser 2 vs. Loser 3, Noon
Game 7: No. 4 UC Davis vs. Winner 1, 1:30 p.m.
Game 8: No. 3 Santa Clara vs. Winner 2, 3 p.m.
Game 9: No. 2 UC San Diego vs. Winner 3, 4:30 p.m.
Game 10: No. 1 Loyola Marymount vs. Winner 4, 6 p.m.
SATURDAY, NOV. 19
Game 11: Loser 5 vs. Loser 6 (11th Place), 10:30 a.m.
Game 12: Winner 5 vs. Winner 6 (9th Place), Noon
Game 13: Winner 7 vs. Winner 10, 1:30 p.m.
Game 14: Winner 8 vs. Winner 9, 3 p.m.
Game 15: Loser 7 vs. Loser 10, 4:30 p.m.
Game 16: Loser 8 vs. Loser 9, 6 p.m.
SUNDAY, NOV. 20
Game 17: Loser 15 vs. Loser 16 (7th Place), 9:30 a.m.
Game 18: Winner 15 vs. Winner 16 (5th Place), 11 a.m.
Game 19: Loser 13 vs. Loser 14 (3rd Place), 12:30 p.m.
Game 20: Winner 13 vs. Winner 14 (Championship), 2 p.m.