Saturday's Big West game rematches Triton Invite overtime thriller
Manning the helm of UC Davis women's water polo since its earliest years as a club program in the 1980s, former Aggie student-athlete Jamey Wright has brought national prominence to the program and has served as a pioneer of girls' and women's water polo in Northern California.
In June of 2010, his contributions were rewarded on a grand scale with his induction into the USA Water Polo Hall of Fame. Wright joined a class of notables comprising former San Jose State player (and Major League Baseball commissioner) Peter Ueberroth, SJSU and Olympic Club coach Edward Rudloff, Olympic medalists Heather Moody and Kathy Sheehy; and referee Bret Bernard.
Less than three weeks after this honor was announced, Wright took down his milestone 300th varsity-era win with a 10-6 victory over Brown at the Roadrunner Invitational on March 28. Then last year, in a 12-11 thriller with Hartwick on March 11, the veteran coach posted his 400th career victory.
When the NCAA began sponsoring an annual National Collegiate Championship in 2001, Wright embarked on a new quest: to bring his program to prominence on that stage. In 2006, his Aggie team reached that pinnacle. With an 8-7 upset over Loyola Marymount in the Western Water Polo Association title game, UC Davis earned the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA postseason. Sweetening the victory was that UC Davis hosted the 2006 national tournament at Schaal Aquatics Center. The Aggies finished fifth nationally in 2006, ending the year with wins over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and Hartwick.
Wright returned his program to the national stage in 2008 with UC Davis' qualification to the NCAA Championship at Stanford. With a 10-9 win over Loyola Marymount in the conference title game, the Aggies won their last-ever Western Water Polo Association championship to capture the conference's automatic qualifier to the national tournament.
UC Davis went on to post a program-best fourth place at the national tournament, finishing the year with a school-record 27 wins.
In 2009, Wright was charged with the task of guiding his program through a new era: as a member of the highly competitive Big West Conference. The inaugural season pit UC Davis in a tough race with UC Irvine, UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Northridge, Long Beach State and Pacific. Another national power, Hawai'i, joined the league in 2013, replacing Pacific
Wright's history with UC Davis women's water polo dates back to its club days. After inheriting the team in 1983, he led the team to the Collegiate I Nationals 15 times, where the Aggies placed third or higher 10 times. Since the NCAA began sponsoring an NCAA Championship for women's water polo, Wright has twice brought his program to that stage. UC Davis had come close to the NCAA Championships in the five previous years. In 2001, the Aggies came within one game - in fact, one goal - of earning the automatic qualification. Instead, the Aggies qualified for the National Collegiate Select Championships (formerly the USWP Collegiate I Nationals), where they placed fourth. For his achievements, Wright won the first-ever USWP Division II Coach of the Year award by the American Water Polo Coaches Association.
From 2002 to 2004, UC Davis placed third in the conference, engaging in epic battles during semifinal play. In 2005, Wright guided a relatively inexperienced team to a 20-17 season and a runner-up finish in the WWPA Championships at Schaal Aquatics Center. Wright was voted as WWPA Coach of the Year by his peers.
Wright guided the Aggies to the USWP national championship game six times, winning the title in 1984, 1988 and 1993. In 1999, the Aggies placed seventh at nationals after winning the inaugural WWPA women's title, earning Wright Coach of the Year merit.
Along with the team success, Wright has coached 65 All-Americans and has had eight players compete on the U.S. Senior National `A' Team.
Additionally, he was selected Collegiate I Coach of the Year in 1991 and served as the U.S. Senior National `B' Team Coach from 1990 to 1999, coaching teams competing in Hungary, Great Britain, Holland, Canada and Puerto Rico.
A 1980 graduate of UC Davis, Wright earned first team All-Far Western Conference honors in water polo in 1977 and 1978. He was a team captain and a 1980 All-American in swimming as well. Wright also earned an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship Award.
Besides helping develop the high school girls' water polo scene in the local area, Wright served as the driving force in bringing women's water polo to varsity status at UC Davis for the 1997 season. His role of advancing the sport reached new heights in February 2004, when he was selected to chair the inaugural NCAA joint men's and women's water polo rules committee.
Jamey and his wife Nancy, who starred for the Aggies during the program's club heydays, reside in Davis with their children Michael, Hailey and Cameron. Michael played for the UC Davis men's water polo team from 2010-14, while Hailey wrapped up her career with the Aggie women's team in 2016. Cameron, who played for the Cadet and Youth national teams, will begin his collegiate career in 2017.