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DAVIS, Calif. - With two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation race heats up and UC Davis heads into key matchups with teams still vying for one of the six slots in the conference tournament. The Aggies, who sit in fifth place at 2-2 after Saturday's decisive win over Fresno State, take on seventh-place California (1-3) on Friday before returning home for an Easter Sunday tilt against fourth-place Oregon (3-2).
Head coach Tee Ladouceur found herself in a strikingly similar scenario one year ago. UC Davis came off a game in which it played its best lacrosse of the year (a 13-7 upset of Denver) in preparation for two key MPSF games (also Cal and Oregon). Two weeks later, the Aggies clinched their first MPSF tourney berth since 2010.
Sure enough, Saturday's win in Fresno saw the 2017 edition of UC Davis LAX playing its best game of the season. The team outshot its host by a 37-14 margin, won 17 of the game's 25 draws, and committed just 12 turnovers. Six Aggies scored in double figures, including a game-high four from sophomore Taylor Cuenin, who added six caused turnovers and five ground balls en route to her second consecutive MPSF Defensive Player of the Week nod. Junior Kate Fellner added three goals with two assists while freshman Kate Graham made her case for the conference's Rookie of the Week award with two goals, two assists and four steals of her own.
For Ladouceur, the victory hit all of the targets she has hoped and expected of her team this year. "This win against Fresno really helped us put it all together. Everything seemed to go well," she said. "Our mistakes were good mistakes, and if we made bad mistakes, everybody had each other's backs. If we missed a pass, we had somebody on the other end who was ready to scoop up the ball. Everyone was anticipating. We were just firing on all cylinders."
Of course, now that her Aggies have hit those peaks, the larger goal is to maintain them for the remainder of April. Ladouceur knows how important the upcoming games with Cal and Oregon are, and she knows the feeling is mutual on the opponent's end. The histories between UC Davis and those two programs also suggest the need to bring the `A' game. The Ducks have won six straight matchups over the Aggies, and 12 of the last 13. The Golden Bears have had a tough go this season, holding a 3-10 overall record, but even the recent UC Davis three-game series streak has had its challenges. The Aggies took two of those three wins by two goals or fewer, while the 2015 win went to overtime.
"We have a weird rivalry with Cal," said Ladoucer. "You had the Landrys, where one [Elizabeth] went here and the other [Chloe] went there. A lot of our parents went to Cal. Oregon is a big question mark because they have a new coaching staff, but they have some really good athletes so it will be about grit and heart and hustle. We'll have to grind it out."
CALIFORNIA (3-10, 1-4) picked off its first MPSF win over Saint Mary's, getting three Golden Bear hat tricks en route to a 20-10 victory. Senior attacker Jena Fritts leads her team offensively with 35 goals and 10 assists while junior midfielder Meredith Haggerty leads the hustle stats with 19 ground balls and 15 caused turnovers. OREGON (7-6, 3-2) faces Stanford on Friday before making the drive to Davis for Sunday. Sophomore Shannon Williams, who ranks second in the conference at 4.46 points per game, scored a hat trick in Friday's 17-7 loss to No. 9 USC. The Ducks have demonstrated their ability to take on some of the nation's best, as was evident in a 16-11 battle to then-No. 4 Colorado back on March 19.
Ultimately, Ladouceur's primary concern lies not with her opponents, but with her own team. The most recent win provides the confidence booster and the example her players seek to reach: not that they won, but the manner in which they won. "Now that they know they can do it, it's what I will expect from them every time we play," she said. "I even asked them if it felt easy, and they said yes. As I said, once you get into a groove and a rhythm, it starts to become easy and fun. That's how it should be."
Live stats for both games are available via StatBroadcast. A live video stream of Sunday's game against Oregon can be found as a Facebook Live events. Links for all stats and videos are found above.
QUICK STICKS: Taylor Cuenin's six caused turnovers at Fresno State extended her school record to 49... She now sits within striking range of another hustle stat record: with 51 ground balls, she has tied Nicole Frantz for fifth and needs just eight to surpass Megan O'Connor for the modern school record (since 2003)... With another 11, Cuenin could catch the all-time record of 61 -- an impressive feat given the way ground balls were defined in those days (e.g. they did not require a possession change)... Through Sunday, Cuenin ranks second nationally in CTs (3.58 per game), fifth in GBs (3.83)... Cuenin (46) and Shannon Geary (45) lead the team in that category... UC Davis has at least four games remaining on the schedule, so both players will also challenge the school season list in DCs... O'Connor holds the No. 5 slot with 56.