Jan. 17, 2012
Ten thousand, one hundred eighty minutes.
No, this is not a lyric from the musical Rent, but rather than total amount of collegiate playing time the UC Davis women's water polo program has on its 2012 roster. Although head coach Jamey Wright may not be aware of this exact figure, he certainly has a qualitative grasp on the amount of experience he fields heading into the upcoming season, which begins at the San Jose State Spartan Invitational on Saturday. Fueling his optimism is that it reminds him of the last Aggie squad to reach the NCAA Championship.
"This team is a lot like the 2008 group in that there is a lot of experience in the senior group, which is pretty exciting," Wright says. Then we have our juniors: Riane [Woods] has a lot of experience as a goalie and we have our two leading scorers, Jessica Dunn and Carmen Eggert. And having Koty [Dakotah Mohr] in her fifth year makes the senior class that much more solidified."
Add to that a sizable class of redshirt sophomores and redshirt juniors, and the 16th-ranked Aggies boast even more proven veterans. In fact, a total of 5,683 of last year's 7,252 minutes - 78.3 percent - have come back for this year. That's the highest return rate since the program began tracking playing time in 2000. The 10,180 career returning minutes surpasses the 2007 team, which had 9,525 UC Davis minutes (plus transfers Laura Uribe and Madeline Stephenson).
The top five scorers from last year's 20-12 team are back from another tour of the battlefield. Eggert scored 57 goals with 33 assists, Dunn posted 51 goals with 40 assists and Mohr tallied 30 goals to go with 78 drawn exclusions. All three earned second-team All-Big West Conference honors, while Eggert and Dunn added All-America honorable mention. Two other seniors, attacker Ariel Feeney and center Alicia Began, each tallied 30 goals.
Wright has seven seniors, all of whom have played significantly: Mohr has 113 goals as an Aggie and has shattered the school career record for drawn kickouts. Kaylee Queipo-Miller has twice earned All-Big West honorable mention as a defender. Began enjoyed a breakout season in 2011, shooting .556 and scoring 26 goals in the final 20 games. Carey Faber, known for her cannon of a shooting arm, scored more points per minute than any other Aggie in 2010. Lyndsay Sutterley, who serves as a co-captain along with Mohr and Began, is the consummate utility player. She chipped in 11 assists and 20 steals last year. Feeney, who set career bests for goals and assists in 2011, is one of only two UC Davis players (along with Queipo-Miller) to have played in all 98 games in the last three years. Goalie Rachel Tatusko protected the cage in 20 games and 290 minutes in support of the starter Woods last year.
Wright also sees strengths in his Aggie squad that do not appear on the stat reports. "I think this team is much more cohesive than the last couple of years," he said. "And while we had components that were much more athletic, we are a bigger-and-stronger type of athletic now."
In the end, Wright will not underestimate the importance of his team's experience: "We have a lot of people who have played together for a long time, and I think they all understand their roles and what they're supposed to do. Depth is a real strength for us. We have a lot of juniors and seniors who have a lot, and you have a fair number of underclassmen who can contribute. The challenge for me will be to have trust in that depth."
Part of Wright's personnel are those who sat out last year - five players redshirted the 2011 season - and the influx of freshmen. Of particular note are first-year performers Allyson Hansen (of Concord, Calif.) and Elsie Fullerton (from Davis), both centers blessed with good size and strength. With Mohr graduating after this year and sophomore Hannah Curran too valuable as an outside shooter, Wright looks to the freshman pair to provide him with a classic, prototypical center. "Adding Allyson and Elsie, who are big, strong, tough players, is not so much about getting experience as it is about needing them to play solid minutes for us."
Whether a fifth-year senior (e.g. Mohr), a junior All-American (e.g. Dunn or Eggert), a 2010 player who sat out last year (e.g. Kathryn Bailey, Alex Rawlinson or Hannah Breen), or a true freshman (Hansen, Fullerton or last year's Sac-Joaquin Section MVP Keelia Houston), every Aggie on the roster will face a trial by fire early in the season. The first three weeks of the upcoming season are tougher than anything UC Davis has faced before.
Defending NCAA champion Stanford enters the year at No. 1 in the preseason poll. Cal opened at No. 2, USC in a tie for No. 3 and San Jose State at No. 5. Those four teams represent six of UC Davis' first nine games on the 2012 slate. In comparison, the Aggies took on Top 5 opposition four times all last year. In 2010, they played five games against the nation's premier handful.
Nonetheless, this heady schedule has little effect on Wright's plans for the opening weekends. His primary objective is to win the Big West Conference title and earn a trip to the NCAA Championship. The conference season does not start until April. The Big West Championship, held at UC Davis' own Schaal Aquatics Center this year, takes place from April 27-29. The early season, tough as it may be, serves only as the proving grounds for that part of the schedule. Wright intends to use every part of his roster.
"This weekend, I need to play the people who will play a lot of minutes this season. I need to see where they're at," said the USA Water Polo Hall of Famer. "Then I also need to play people in a lot of different combinations to see what else we have or to see if we are as deep as I think we are. I won't know any of that until I put people in.
"I have to understand that the team might not be where I want them to be, or they might not be where they think they should be," Wright added. "But we'll find out this week and we'll know what to work on for next week. We won't know any of that until we give them an opportunity."
The test begins on Saturday morning, when UC Davis takes on 17th-ranked Big West Conference foe UC Santa Barbara to open the Spartan Invite. The Aggies will finish the day against Cal at 3:30 p.m., then take on Santa Clara (10:30 a.m.) and host San Jose State (3:30) in Sunday's action.
Note: San Jose State has created a tournament home page at http://www.sjsuspartans.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=5600&ATCLID=205363995/.