March 4, 2014
DAVIS, Calif. - An unbeaten weekend on the opposite coast followed by a bye from competition prepares UC Davis women's lacrosse for its first homestand of the 2014 season, and an unusually busy stretch of games to finish out the university's winter quarter.
The Aggies play five games in a span of nine days, starting with Saturday's home opener against Cal. They follow with contests against Siena on Monday night and Robert Morris on Wednesday, followed by a weekend road trip to USC and San Diego State on March 14 and 16.
UC Davis' opening weekend, which featured a 9-8 victory over George Mason and a more convincing 12-6 win at Old Dominion, provided head coach Kate Henwood with areas of encouragement... and places for improvement. "I think it was a great first weekend for the 2014 season. Coming home 2-0 is exactly what our goal was," said Henwood. "We wanted to make a statement to ourselves and set the tone for the level of expectations. We weren't 100 percent satisfied with our play. We made a lot of mistakes, but we still won despite them. That's the difference between a great team and a mediocre team. The team never doubted for a second that we would win."
The brightest lights of that opening weekend were rewarded with a sweep of the MPSF weekly honors back on February 24. Freshman Melissa Kellan captured both Offensive Player and Rookie of the Week accolades, while junior goalkeeper Kai Murphy was chosen as Defensive Player of the Week. Kellan shot a combined 10-for-13 on the offensive end, while Murphy posted 31 saves with 12 goals against in the two contests.
Inside those statistics revealed the team's strengths thus far. Of Kellan's 10 goals, eight were assisted while a ninth came off an eight-meter chance. In fact, of the team's 21 goals, 18 were assisted while two others came from the set-piece free positions. Junior Elizabeth Landry leads individually with seven dimes while Meghan Jordan has another six.
That percentage stood as Henwood's favorite number on the stat sheet: "that's the brand of lacrosse that we look to play, that quick ball movement. It really catches the defense on its heels and it proves to be very difficult to guard.
"When we run our offense successfully, it's a pretty thing to see."
As for Murphy, the Morristown, N.J. native leads all NCAA Division I goalkeepers in both saves per game (15.5) and save percentage (.689). Henwood credits both her goalkeeper individually and the defenders surrounding her. "Kai played phenomenally, I'm really impressed," said the second-year Aggie coach. "She's so even-keeled and consistent. That mindset is important for a goalie. It's very easy to get emotional about a couple of goals getting in. But she stays focused, and we love that consistent mentality that she brings.
"That save percentage speaks a lot about Kai and her abilities, but that speaks a lot to our defense as a whole, and the types of shots that Kai was seeing. That save percentage statistic is not just an individual stat, that's a team stat."
One number that revealed an area of concern was the 40 turnovers in the two wins. Oddly, the Aggies committed 21 giveaways to Old Dominion's 11 despite a six-goal favorable scoring margin. In the victory at Mason, UC Davis failed on seven of 18 "clear attempts" -- that is, opportunities to transition from the defensive third to the attacking third.
"Our defense would make an awesome stop, then we would turn it over in transition. Then again, an awesome stop and a turnover," Henwood recalls. "There was a five-minute stretch where that went on and on, and we never got the ball past the 50. It tells us what we need to do about our transition game, but it also spoke volumes about our defense, which could made stop after stop after stop. That was encouraging to see."
As such, the weekend off did not mean a light week for the team, which worked hard to shoring up its transition game for the upcoming stretch. This week, the preparation will narrow its focus toward the homestand and in particular, the Saturday conference game against Cal. While the coaches will certainly keep an eye on the long haul that comprise the upcoming two weeks, their objective is to keep the players primed only for the next opponent -- giving the "one game at a time" sports cliché its proper due.
"This week, the only thing we as coaches are talking to the players about is Cal," said Henwood. "We certainly have other work in there that will prepare us for Siena or Robert Morris, but we're only talking about Cal. If we tried to talk about all five games, we'd probably lose all five."
CALIFORNIA (1-1, 1-1) won its season opener against Saint Mary's with a 20-goal output but fell last weekend in an overtime 14-11 heartbreaker to the undefeated San Diego State. Freshman Bella Huther, who led the Golden Bears with five goals, scored twice in the final four minutes to help erase an 11-8 deficit and force the extra frames. However, Cal missed on four shots during the added six minutes to lose by three. Huther leads the team with nine goals, sophomore attacker Lizz Lavie has six assists and junior midfielder Gaby Christman paces the Bears with 11 draw controls. The Aggies hold an 11-19 all-time record against Cal but the Golden Bears have won 14 of the 15 matchups since 2002.
SIENA (1-2) picked up its first win at home against Wagner after opening the 2014 season with losses to Bryant and Vermont. Junior attacker Erin Mossop has six goals and sophomore Sarah Croutier has another five in the three games. Each player scored hat tricks in Saturday's 12-8 victory against the Seahawks. UC Davis is 2-1 all-time against Siena, but lost the most recent matchup (12-10) back in 2009.
ROBERT MORRIS (3-0) remained undefeated with a 20-4 drubbing of Howard on Saturday followed by a 15-14 thriller against MPSF member Oregon exactly 24 hours later. Junior Kristin Yoviene, who scored four goals against the Ducks on Sunday, leads the Colonials with an 8-4-12 offensive chart. Sophomore midfielder Jessica Karwacki leads the country with an average of 16.0 draw controls per game, more than five better than the nearest competitor. The Aggies hold a 2-1 series record against RMU, winning the first two matchups by a 38-5 margin but falling by a 13-8 final in the most recent meeting (2009).
Opening draw for Saturday's home opener with Cal is scheduled for noon. The game will be streamed live on AggieTV with Arniel Mirasol providing video coverage. Gregory Wong and his KDVS crew will provide the audio play-by-play. Check back on www.ucdavisaggies.com for direct links to this coverage.