DAVIS, Calif. - Some 13 calendar days separated UC Davis women's water polo from its season-opening LouStrong Memorial tournament appearance to last weekend's showing at Cal's Speedo Cup I, but the progress made in that relatively short span resembled more of a broad jump than baby steps. Head coach and USA Water Polo Hall of Famer Jamey Wright now looks for his team to continue its improvement in another tough challenge, this weekend's Stanford Invitational.
The Aggies will open with No. 6 Michigan on Saturday morning, then engage in rematches with No. 16 San Jose State and No. 4 California before drawing their final opponent in the two-day, eight-team tourney.
UC Davis picked up its first win of the year -- against a Big West Conference opponent, no less -- then challenged the perennial-power Golden Bears in Saturday's finale. Even more satisfying for Wright was winning a close game. The Aggies led early, let the Matadors back in the second half, then even trailed by one before scoring a game-winner in the final seconds.
"We found a way to win in a tight game. We were down by one and had to come back and persevere," said Wright. "The last goal was a quintessential gut-check time. Hannah [Harvey] made a great pass and Annie Kutt, to her absolute credit, hustled the whole play."
In fact, Harvey had an outstanding game against CSUN. She tied her career high of four goals while setting a new personal best of six steals.
Battling California to just an 11-9 loss showed the promise in the Aggies' relatively young roster. After all, this was a team that suffered its first-ever series loss to UC Davis less than 11 months prior. "If anybody had a chip on their shoulder coming into play us, it would be them. They came in with both barrels blazing. We matched it and competed against that quality of opponent with all of their Olympians."
The Cal game also showcased a focal point in the previous weekend's training: front-court and transition defense. With the Golden Bears' speed and two-meter strength, limiting goals on counterattacks and out of set is an added challenge. Yet Wright recalls only four goals allowed in those two areas. "The things we preach daily are very simple, and it's very much similar to basketball: don't give up the dunk," he said. "No easy baskets. No fast break points. Make them earn it."
UC Davis still looks to shore up its game on power plays, both offensively and defensively. UC Davis converted just 4 of 17 extra-player opportunities, while the 5-on-6 defense surrendered 10 out of 22. Junior Greta Kohlmoos drew six exclusions to go with her five goals last weekend, while junior Heather Johnson created seven such chances in the first weekend. So Wright looks to see his Aggies take advantage of these opportunities at a higher rate.
Saturday's Aggie-Wolverine matchup takes place at 11 a.m. The opposite bracket comprises No. 20 Loyola Marymount, No. 6 UC Irvine, No. 8 Hawaii and the top-ranked hosts.
SKIP SHOTS: While Greta Kohlmoos (5 goals, 6 drawn exclusions), Paige Virgil (5 goals) and Hannah Harvey (4 goals, 7 steals) led the team stat sheet, head coach Jamey Wright cited the play of junior center Jill Bushman as a bright spot... "She's undersized for her position [5-foot-7] but she just works. I'm just so thankful she's on our team," he said... Redshirt freshman Cassidy Smithson played all of three minutes for the weekend, but it was just enough to convert a 6-on-5 against Cal for her first collegiate goal... Smithson's score helped the Aggies score three unanswered to cut into a four-goal deficit.
ABOUT THE OPPONENTS: MICHIGAN (3-2) went 3-2 at UC Santa Barbara's Winter Invite, picking up wins against CSU Bakersfield, CSUN and the host Gauchos... Sophomore attacker Julia Sellers leads the Wolverines with 11 goals and 9 steals while freshman goalie Heidi Ritner has 47 saves with 33 goals allowed for a .588 success rate... SAN JOSE STATE (2-4) split its Speedo Cup games against a pair of Big West members, falling to Long Beach State in sudden victory then taking down CSUN by an 11-4 final... Sophomore Carla Toha Vilanova scored five total goals, four against the 49ers... CALIFORNIA (5-0) enjoyed hat tricks by two-time Olympian Dora Antal in its wins over LBSU and UC Davis on Saturday... She leads the Bears with 15 goals, matching the next two scorers combined (Emily Loughlin and Rachael Lewin).