Feb. 4, 2014
DAVIS, Calif. -
Following a seventh-place victory at the brutally tough Stanford Invitational, 17th-ranked UC Davis women's water polo continues tournament play at UC San Diego's Triton Invitational on Saturday and Sunday. The Aggies are pooled in the `B' bracket with UC Irvine, Long Beach State and Cal State East Bay.
To head coach Jamey Wright, the opportunity to see the other Big West Conference foes stands as perhaps the most important gains from the two tournaments. His team faced both UC Irvine and Hawai'i at Stanford's Avery Aquatic Center last weekend, and will open with Long Beach State in La Jolla on Saturday morning.
"We played the two teams that played in the Big West Conference championship game last year," said Wright, referring to UCI and Hawai'i. "Whatever the result is, getting to play them right away is a good thing. Now we know that they do this or do that. We'll play Long Beach to start the tournament on Saturday and if we win that, we will probably play Irvine again. To me, that's great. The way to the NCAAs is through UC Irvine, so at some point we need to learn how to beat them."
Although the relative strength of opponent admittedly clouds the picture - the Aggies faced the No. 2, 5, 6 and 16 teams in the country, in that order - the Hall of Fame coach became more pleased with his team's play as the weekend progressed at Stanford. After a rocky start against Hawai'i in Sunday's opener, UC Davis began to show its overall capabilities down the stretch against the Wahine and in a 9-5 win over Michigan.
"I thought the last three quarters against Hawai'i and all four quarters against Michigan showed what we are capable of doing, but have to do it consistently," Wright said. "There were still some glaring mistakes but I thought the energy was better. I have to commend the team for chipping away [against Hawai'i] and getting to the point where we could even tie the game in the last minute."
More crucial for this point in the season, the tournament provided Wright with some clearer objectives for the Aggies' training. The pace of play was relentless, and a key goal will be to match that intensity during the weekday workouts. Furthermore, UC Davis will make its 6-on-5 offense a priority as it gears up for the UCSD tournament. The Aggies drew five exclusions in the first quarter of last Saturday's opener with Stanford, but only converted the first. "We were moving the ball around, making plays and drawing exclusions," said Wright. "We made our first 6-on-5 but went oh-for in our next seven."
Much of the power-play struggles came from knowing when to pull the trigger, according to Wright: "We were kind of tentative. People passed up on some pretty good shots because they thought someone might get a better one." While junior Keelia Houston and sophomore Ariel Arcidiacono were clear exceptions, combining for 9-for-11 shooting in extra-player situations, the rest of the team hit just 2 of 14 attempts.
Houston was a bright spot overall throughout the weekend. She tallied seven total goals as the only Aggie to score in all four contests, while adding two assists and three drawn exclusions. After losing the preseason and the opening weekend to injury, junior Elsie Fullerton continued to show her upside as she transitions to two-meter defense. With the Aggies so rich with talent at center (senior Hannah Curran, sophomore lefty Allyson Hansen and freshman Carla Tocchini), Fullerton has switched roles and put her awesome tools to work on the defensive end.
Challenging the focus on the 6-on-5 game will be the depth of the UC Davis roster. Coach Wright had 15 of his players appear in all four games at Stanford, and expects the same at UC San Diego this weekend. Executing those valuable power-play opportunities requires every player being solid in her respective role -- reading the variables, understanding the options, and knowing when to shoot. A deeper team means more combinations of these roles, but Wright would not have it any other way. "If an NFL team lets the starting quarterback get 80 percent of the reps in practice, and he goes down with an injury, they're screwed. Our challenge will be getting in the reps for everybody."
UC IRVINE (6-2) took down Hawai'i in the rematch of the 2013 Big West title game, then dispatched UC Davis in Saturday's finale. The Anteaters even held a 4-2 first-quarter lead against No. 2 Stanford before falling by a 13-9 score, then lost to Cal, 12-6, in the third-place game. Sophomore center McKenna Mitchell scored eight goals for the weekend to lead UCI offensively.
No. 12 LONG BEACH STATE (3-2) rallied late but could not overcome its halftime deficit to ninth-ranked San Diego State, eventually losing by a 5-4 final. Justine Morgan and Chelsea Parks each scored two goals while senior and third-year starting goalkeeper Kelly Ringel finished with 12 saves. Morgan, a 5-foot-4 attacker, leads the 49ers with 11 goals. She is the only Beach player to score in all five games thus far.
CAL STATE EAST BAY (1-1) opened the year with an 11-5 victory over Fresno Pacific two weeks ago, then lost by a 20-2 tally to No. 6 Hawai'i last Friday afternoon for its only action in 2014. Sara Hudyn, who hit six goals in the season opener against the Sunbirds, hit both scores in the loss to the Wahine. A 6-1 senior utility, Hudyn garnered first-team ACWPC All-America honors in 2013. She led the Western Water Polo Association with a school-record 109 goals.
Composing the other top seeds at the Triton Invite are No. 1 USC, No. 5 UC Irvine No. 8 host UC San Diego and No. 9 San Diego State. Other national top 20 teams in attendance include Arizona State, Loyola Marymount, Indiana, Cal State Northridge, UC Santa Barbara and Hartwick.
UC Davis opens with Long Beach State at 9:50 a.m. All games take place at the Canyonview Aquatic Center.