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DAVIS, Calif. - The toughest first two weeks in program history sets the table for a three-week, four-game UC Davis women's lacrosse homestand to close out the winter. The Aggies host Presbyterian on Wednesday, then bring in Coastal Carolina for a Sunday afternoon tilt.
Indeed, the start to 2017 has tested second-year head coach Tee Ladouceur's squad like no other before. The most recent weekend, consisting of a road trip to No. 15 Denver and No. 13 Colorado, marked the first time UC Davis ever faced back-to-back nationally ranked opponents. On top of that, the February 10 opener came against No. 12 Stanford.
"I think the month of February was good for us because we had three Top 20 teams, three very talented teams," said Ladouceur. "Colorado is ranked ninth in a couple of polls and I think Denver will start to move up the ranks. Those are really good tests for us. If we can run with teams like that and fix our second-half issues, we'll be just fine."
For Ladouceur, a major focus for the next stretch will be ball control. This includes winning the draw, and both earning and keeping possession. The former category loomed heavily for UC Davis in its recent road trip, especially in the second halves of the two games. Denver outdrew the Aggies by a 16-8 margin while Colorado held a 20-5 edge. UC Davis won only six total draws after halftime in the two contests.
If a team does not win the initial draw, then getting the ball to the attacking end relies on transitions. The Aggies managed to successfully navigate from their defensive third to the attacking third -- known as a "clear" in lacrosse lingo -- 11 of 20 times against the Pioneers and 12 of 19 against the Buffs. (In contrast, DU and CU were a combined 24-for-25 in this area.)
"We need to see the ball on the opposite end. Our practices will be draw controls, draw controls, draw controls," said Ladouceur. "We also have to make sure that we're playing smarter. If we cause a turnover, those extra three seconds it takes to get the ground ball and take it up the field is a lot less than having to play defense the whole game. So we have to learn to take care of the ball when we disrupt the other team's game plan."
UC Davis did perform well at shaking up opposing offenses last week. Sophomore Taylor Cuenin delivered a team-high eight caused turnovers last weekend, while defenders Tess Kevorkian and Anna Belenis had two each. Goalie Lauren Ali posted 25 saves against 30 goals for a respectable .455 average, while leading all players with nine ground balls. However, facing an 82-23 shooting margin reveals how much of the game took place on the Aggies' defensive end.
Overall, senior Melissa Kellan leads UC Davis with 11 goals and three assists for 14 total points. Cuenin has another 9-5-14 offensive chart, with team highs in ground balls (14) and steals (14). Junior Kate Fellner, in her first year as a full-time starter, netted three goals for the weekend as part of her six total points this season.
"I've seen a lot of good things. We've had freshmen contribute and get out their freshman mistakes. Overall, we've played a lot of defense and worked out the kinks in some of the areas we knew would be problem areas. So there were definitely some positive aspects. I now want to see our girls use their game plan for the plus side. We have a really talented group of girls, it's just a matter of when they will decide to compete."
Wednesday's game against Presbyterian starts at 4 p.m. while Sunday's UC Davis-Coastal Carolina game has a 2 p.m. first draw. Live stats are available via StatBroadcast, while all home lacrosse games are now streamed via Facebook Live. Links are above.
QUICK STICKS: Despite the strength of its opponents, UC Davis shot .478 in the two Colorado games, holding the season percentage at .4705... This is the team's highest rate since shooting .4708 back in 2013... The Aggie team record is .480 (239-for-498), set in 2010... Senior Melissa Kellan leads the way at .611 (11-for-18)... She set the school record for this exact category back in 2015 (.627), surpassing Danner Doud-Martin's 1999 mark (.618)... Doud-Martin's hit rate slipped to .576 when narrowing the season to NCAA-countable games only... Additionally, UC Davis has put its shots on goal at an .824 rate, well on pace to surpass the unofficial school record of .810 from 2013... Taylor Cuenin (.895), Shannon Cross (.882), Kate Fellner (.857) and Amanda Outcalt (.800) lead among shooters with more than one attempt per game.
ABOUT THE OPPONENTS: PRESBYTERIAN (0-3) suffered a 16-3 defeat at the hands of Saint Francis (Pa.) on Sunday... Junior midfielder Lauren Schaaf paces the Blue Hose with six goals while senior midfielder Alexandra Cole has four goals and three assists for a team-best seven points... Senior defender Maura Talvacchia has 18 of her team's 62 ground balls... COASTAL CAROLINA (1-0) opened its 2017 season with a 19-8 win over Cincinnati on Friday... Senior attacker Keri White fell just one shy of a Chanticleers record with six goals while junior Sophia Crowther had five goals with two assists and three CTs... White earned preseason All-Atlantic Sun second-team honors.