Sept. 27, 2013
DAVIS, Calif. - Creating a schedule is a task that all coaches tackle strategically, and delicately, on an annual basis. With league matchups created in advance by the conference office, it is the coaches who are responsible for piecing together a non-conference schedule challenging enough to test both individual players, and the collective group.
"There are times each season where I wonder if I created too tough of a schedule," said head coach Maryclaire Robinson. "But it is that challenge that pushes players past their limits and helps them reach their potential."
Making a difficult situation even more challenging are the financial limitations every Division I women' soccer athletics program face, restricting the number of opponents the Aggies can face each and every season.
"In a perfect situation, I will travel to another school one year and have that team play a return match in Davis the following season, or in certain cases, the year after.
"I'm running into the same problem every year where other teams are more than willing to host us, but face difficulties in scheduling a return match in Davis. This forces me to be creative with my schedule, which is why I like to cement games against West Coast and Pac-12 teams."
Known for its numerous nationally respected soccer programs, the West Coast and Pac-12 Conferences offer the best of both worlds to UC Davis. Not only is Robinson (and her Northern California colleagues who encounter a similar situation) able to face top caliber teams and provide a challenging, yet realistic level of competition for their players, teams are more willing to schedule return matches due to the minimal amount of class time missed (if any) and travel costs.
The Aggies have already faced three Pac-12 teams this season and finished with a 1-1-1 record. Even though UC Davis was defeated by a nationally ranked Cal lineup, the team easily downed the Oregon Ducks and left Salt Lake City with a 2-2 tie against the Utah Utes.
"Scheduling a game at Utah was a no-brainer," said Robinson. "We were already making the trip to face Utah Valley and Utah was willing to add another non-conference game to its schedule."
Even though San Francisco was the only West Coast Conference team on the Aggies' schedule this year, Robinson is more than willing to compete against any of its member schools, and has in past seasons.
With only one game remaining, Friday's 7:30 p.m. match at Pacific, before the start of the Aggies' Big West schedule, Robinson is confident that this year's non-conference games have best prepared the team for what lies ahead.
"We have the talent on this roster and a number of playmakers that are dangerous with the ball. When healthy, we have players who can flat out score and frustrate other teams," added Robinson.
One look at the Big West standings will provide fans one perspective of how all nine teams fared throughout the inaugural weeks of the 2013 season. However, those numbers also prevent one from gaining a clear and concise understanding of the nuances behind everyone's non-conference experience.
With a 6-3-1 record as of the time of this posting, UC Santa Barbara sits atop the conference standings; at 4-4, Cal Poly, a competitive team that contends for one of the four available spots at the Big West Women's Soccer Tournament on an annual basis, sits closely behind the Gauchos.
However, both teams possess a Rating Percentage Index, more commonly known as a RPI and used to rank a team's wins, losses, quality and strength of schedule, lower than the Aggies.
Crafting a schedule is a delicate art, one that coaches respect tremendously and work assiduously towards in an attempt to best prepare one's team. When done correctly, a schedule will help a team enter its league games as a cohesive unit, especially compared to games played during the initial weeks of the season, helping the squad peak prior the start of the NCAA's College Cup Tournament.
From that point on, the most consistent team, more often that not, ends the year as the most successful one, and is awarded the privilege of hoisting the championship trophy come mid-December.
As for now, Pacific is what everyone is focused on, and preparing for in the practices leading up to tonight's match. After that, regardless of what the numbers state, everyone will enter the second season, the one that matters the most, tied for first with identical 0-0-0 records.