DAVIS, Calif. - A full slate of Top-20 opponents awaits the UC Davis women’s water polo team in its season-opening weekend this Saturday and Sunday. The Aggies, ranked 16th in last year’s final national poll, take on No. 2 Stanford, No. 15 Pacific, No. 3 UCLA and No. 11 San Jose State at the annual LouStrong Memorial tournament, named in memory of former Spartan head coach Lou Tully.USAWP Hall of Famer Jamey Wright enters his 34th season at the Aggie helm, but in many ways, the 2017 season stands as a new beginning. The team graduated a substantial senior class last year, one that included All-Big West Conference honorees Allyson Hansen and Bryn Lutz, plus 96 of the goalie minutes from the team’s 17-13 year. Furthermore, junior center Carla Tocchini will redshirt the 2017 season, sidelining the 43 goals and All-Big West honorable mention from last year. As a result, UC Davis owns a nucleus of season veterans surrounded by a wealth of (mostly) freshman and sophomore players looking to assume the vacated roles and establish the program’s place in the tough Big West. “Having this significant of a turnover is something we haven’t had in a while,” said Wright. “It causes some angst because we have so much inexperience, but it’s also really fun. The learning curve will be sharp.” Arguably leading the known quantities is senior Hannah Harvey, who scored 39 goals with 21 assists and a team-leading 36 steals and earned All-Big West honorable mention in 2016. Four other returners – sophomore utility Annie Kutt (16 assists, 15 steals), junior center Greta Kohlmoos (27 goals, 24 drawn exclusions), sophomore defender McKenna Hauss (10 goals, 11 field blocks) and junior attacker Heather Johnson (14 assists, 19 steals) – averaged double-digit playing time. Another junior, Paige Virgil was limited due to injury in 2016, but should return to the form that resulted in 23 goals and 16 steals during her freshman season. Additionally, Wright expects returners like junior Sammy Preston, junior Daniela Hernandez and sophomore Marcela Portales. The three attackers have played largely support roles in previous seasons, but will now have their opportunity to earn substantial playing time. Among the freshmen, goalkeeper Caitlin Golding is the heir apparent to replace last year’s senior tandem of Haley Cameron and Olivia Husted, who helped the Aggies set a team record of 314 saves. Golding was the Modesto Bee’s area Player of the Year as a senior at Oakdale High School. She will share reps with senior Avery Dotterer, a two-time JC All-American at American River College. Among the freshmen, Kathleen Schafle’s combination of size (5-foot-11) and speed helped her post a staggering 146 steals at Vintage High last year. Chloe Robinson, a three-time All-Southwestern League honoree for Temecula Valley and Vista Murrieta, provides a left-handed presence for the Aggies. McKenna Martin, a prep All-American at Lodi High, brings a tough “blue-collar” style to the program. British Columbia native Ariana Momen, who played for Canada’s U-17 national team, will be the team’s fastest swimmer. “Everybody will get to play this weekend. We have some tough games and we want to get everybody some experience,” said Wright. “It’s hard to replicate Stanford and UCLA in practice. This is a great measuring stick. We want to be the best team we can be, and we’ll get that by playing teams that are more experienced. Stanford and UCLA have Olympians and National Team players. We’re not looking at wins and losses as much as we are getting experience at this juncture.” UC Davis opens with last year’s national runner-up Stanford at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. Tournament results are available at www.sjsuspartans.com/sports/w-wpolo/spec-rel/loustrong-memorial-17.html. SKIP SHOTS: The 2017 schedule includes seven tournaments, including the six-team, nine-game Aggie Shootout home opener in mid-February... However, the marquee event on the Aggie home schedule is arguably the return of the Big West Conference Championship from April 28-30... The winner of the league tournament earns the automatic qualifier to the NCAA Championship, hosted by Indiana from May 12-14. A total of 166 of last year’s 283 goals scored, or 58.7 percent, did not return this season... Among the biggest losses were 2016 All-American Allyson Hansen (54) and Bryn Lutz (41), plus the injured Carla Tocchini (43)... Lutz also shared the team lead (with Tocchini) with 19 field blocks and ranked second behind Hannah Harvey with 23 steals... Another departed senior, Ariel Arcidiacono, provided 17 goals with a team-high 24 assists last year... However, the biggest void comes in front of the cage: the platoon of Haley Cameron and Olivia Husted combined for 303 saves against 224 goals (.575)... As a reference, the school record for saves belongs to Blake Simpson, who posted 260 in the inaugural varsity season of 1997... As it is, the 314 team saves broke the old program benchmark of 298, set in 2010. OPPONENTS: STANFORD snared the top spot in the preseason Mountain Pacific Sports Federation poll, slightly ahead of USC and UCLA... The Cardinal returns four All-Americans from its 2016 squad, including leading scorer Jamie Neushul (49 goals)... Additionally, Team USA members Maggie Steffens, Makenzie Fischer and Gabby Stone return to the team after taking the year off to train for the Olympics... UCLA returns four All-Americans, including first-team selection Mackenzie Barr and second-team pick Devin Grab... Rachel Fattal returns for her super-senior year after spending the 2016 season with the U.S. Olympic Team... And if the name Grab sounds familiar to Aggie water polo fans, it should: her brother, Sean, earned the 2015-16 Colby E. “Babe” Slater Award as UC Davis’ outstanding male athlete of the year... PACIFIC finished 16-17 with a 6-1 Golden Coast Conference record in 2016... Junior Karolina Hlavata led the Tigers and ranked second in the GCC with 70 goals last year, earning All-America honorable mention... SAN JOSE STATE graduated Rae Lekness, the MPSF’s leading scorer in 2016, but returns all-conference honorable mention Carla Toha Villanueva... Senior driver Donia Momen, who ranked third on the Spartans with 37 goals, is the older sister of Aggie freshman Ariana Momen.
No. 10 UC Davis upsets No. 7 UC Irvine, 9-8
No. 10 Aggies host No. 7 UC Irvine
No. 10 Aggies edged by No. 5 Hawai'i
UC Davis prepares to face
No. 5 Hawai'i