Jan. 22, 2013
DAVIS, Calif. - Even with the departure of one of the program's finest senior classes, UC Davis women's water polo heads into the 2013 season with an experienced and decorated roster. The Aggies, which earned a No. 12 ranking in the preseason national coaches' poll, boast three returning All-Big West Conference honorees and a pair of two-time All-America honorable-mention picks.
UC Davis opens the new season with a home game against Cal State Monterey Bay on Saturday. First sprint is noon at Schaal Aquatics Center.
Despite facing a tough slate, last year's Aggies finished with an 18-13 overall record and a second-place finish in the tough Big West. They won 13 of 14 down the stretch, advancing to the conference title game before falling to No. 6 UC Irvine. Though the top two scorers were 2013 returnees Jessica Dunn and Carmen Eggert, the spirit of that team resided in its senior class. Dakotah Mohr, Alicia Began and Lyndsay Sutterley were the team co-captains. Ariel Feeney and Kaylee Queipo-Miller had each logged more than 2,000 minutes of playing time in their four-year careers.
For head coach and USA Water Polo Hall of Famer Jamey Wright, now in his 30th year at the Aggie helm, replacing that veteran crew stands as the biggest challenge in repeating - or better yet, exceeding - the success of 2012. More specifically, it means shoring up the defensive game.
"One of my concerns is the defensive end," said Wright. "I feel good about our offense, and most of our top offensive contributors are back. But a lot of our two-meter guards, our tough-minded, `bend but not break' types, have graduated. So new people will have to step into those roles and that's what I'm most interested to see. How we mature and grow on the defensive end will be the real key at the end of the year."
"Oh, I've got no complaints. We've got a tremendous returning team," Wright said. "Our top two scorers come back, our starting goalie comes back, a wealth of experienced players come back. We had freshmen who made big contributions last year. They're now sophomores so we'll expect even more from them this year. They're a year older and a year better. We're very strong and I feel good about that."
Indeed, sophomores Elsie Fullerton and Keelia Houston saw significant playing time in their rookie seasons despite the senior-laden team. Fullerton, a center, led the Aggies in drawn exclusions and field blocks. Houston, a gifted attacker, averaged double-figured minutes and shot 13-for-25 on the offensive end.
Additionally, the upcoming year provides ample opportunities for a deep roster, according to Wright. "Elsie Fullerton has really stepped into the mantle of key players in the middle. Hannah Curran has also done a good job improving in the areas she needed to work on. She's a force for us in the middle. We have those two and all of our great perimeter players. Erin Schlueter did a great job countering. We have the experience of Hannah Breen, Kathryn Bailey, Alex Rawlinson and Katrina Husted. That's a lot of good contributions from the perimeter. One player I'm excited to see how she does is Paige Oreglia. She really worked on a lot of aspects of her game. Being a big, strong left-handed player, she has some contributions to make and we'll find a time to play her."
Maximizing the talent and depth of his personnel will be Wright's highest priority in the first half of the season, all in preparation for another tough Big West Conference season. Already a highly competitive league, the Big West became even stronger with the additions of San Diego State (for 2013 only) and Hawai'i, respectively ranked No. 7 and 13 in the preseason poll. Nonetheless, the Aggies' goal is to perform as well as possible in the seven conference games to maximize their seeding in the conference tournament, then to make a return trip to the title game."
"We want to use the first half of the season to iron out the wrinkles so when we start our conference season in early March, we're hitting our stride," said Wright. "We want to learn as much as we can, do as much as we can and finish as high as we can. We understand that our conference is as strong as any from top to bottom. It's the beauty of the conference, really, that any one of the eight teams can win it."
"Our goal is to get back into the conference game, which we did last year, then to win that conference game and get to the NCAAs, which we've done twice before," added Wright, referring to his 2006 and 2008 teams. "Ultimately, our goal is to win the conference championship game, and we can't win it unless we're in it."
Saturday's opener kicks off a tough early-season stretch. After Cal State Monterey Bay, the Aggies host Indiana for a Friday home game, then take on San Jose State and Stanford twice. The 2013 home schedule also includes two tournaments: the seven-game Davis Challenge from February 16-17, and the nine-game Aggie Shootout on March 2-3.
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