UC Davis enters tough UCI Invite as fifth seed

McKenna Hauss leads the Aggie freshmen with six goals. She and fellow first-year Marcela Portales each netted two in last weekend's Davis Shootout.
(Mark Honbo, Athletics Communications)
Feb. 24, 2016

DAVIS, Calif. - By virtue of its program-best No. 5 national ranking in last week’s Collegiate Water Polo Association poll, UC Davis heads to the UC Irvine Invitational as the fifth seed — also a program high — to take on what is annually the single toughest collegiate tournament field. The Aggies will open with UC San Diego, their old rival from the Western Water Polo Association days, then take on either Stanford or Loyola Marymount in Saturday’s nightcap.

To call the UCI field the strongest on the schedule is hardly hyperbole: every Top 20 team west of the Rocky Mountains will convene at either Anteater Aquatics Complex or Corona Del Mar High School for the 16-team field, and every entrant appears in the Top 25. Even the Triton Invitational cannot boast that claim; and even the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, Big West Conference or NCAA championship tourneys feature a field that strong from top to bottom.

For veteran Aggie head coach Jamey Wright, neither the seed going in, the opponents during, nor the place awarded on the way home is as important to him as the progress his team continues to make.

“My expectations for the weekend aren’t very sexy, I just want to keep improving. Whether we’re the No. 16 seed or the No. 1 seed, whether we win the tournament or finish dead last, my expectations would be that we keep getting better. If we’re not getting better, then we’re wasting our time. As I tell the team, time is our most important commodity, so this is it. Every minute at this tournament is precious, and we have to use all of it to improve and learn.”

The 2-1 record at last weekend’s Davis Shootout continued that process. The Aggies jumped out early on then-No. 24 CSU Bakersfield in their Saturday opener, holding on to a 13-7 win. They followed with a 12-3 victory against Brown just hours later. The usual points of emphasis – defense, 6-on-5s, 5-on-6 defense – all hit their relative targets. UC Davis converted 12 of 19 of its power plays in those two wins while holding the Roadrunners and Bears to a combined 2-for-9 success tate.

Sunday saw a 14-5 loss to No. 4 Stanford, somewhat less competitive than the 11-6 decision from a month before, although the structure of the tournament schedule may have played a part. The Aggies took on the Cardinal 18 hours after completing a Saturday doubleheader, while Stanford had a two-week bye before Sunday’s matchup in which they reportedly prepared for the game as if it was one of their key MPSF matchups.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m making excuses because I’m not. They’re a better team, and it was the focal point for their week,” said Wright. “We ended up playing three games in 21 hours, and we had to prepare for all three. I wish we had been better rested because I think we could have played Stanford better, but overall I was happy with the play [for the weekend]. We kept the positive things going from the weekend before.”

Indeed, UC Davis showed that depth continues to be its finest weapon. Thirteen different players scored at some point during the weekend, with Bryn Lutz (5 goals), Carla Tocchini (5 goals), Allyson Hansen (4 goals, 3 assists) and Hannah Harvey (4 goals) leading offensively. All four goalies saw action during the weekend, with starters Olivia Husted and Haley Cameron combining for 23 saves against 19 goals in their portions in front of the cage.

The program’s younger talent, such as freshmen Annie Kutt, McKenna Hauss and Marcela Portales; plus sophomores Greta Kohlmoos, Heather Johnson and Sammy Preston, made significant contributions throughout the weekend. All of this bodes well for a team heading into its fourth tournament in as many weekends.

To Coach Wright, the progress made throughout has been quite satisfying as his Aggies hit the midpoint of the school year. “I think we’ve gotten better and smarter. We’re not making the same mistakes we were making earlier,” he said.

“We’ve hit midterms, we have people getting sick, it’s our fourth tournament in a row, we’re on the road — there are a lot of reasons that people can fall back on and not give it their best effort. We can’t do that. We don’t have the luxury or the time.”

Tournament info for the UCI Invitational can be found at a tournament headquarters page. The Aggies' opening matchup with UCSD is slated for 11:45 a.m.

SKIP SHOTS: The Aggies rapidly approach the 400th win of the varsity era, which began with the 1997 season... Saturday’s doubleheader sweep represents Nos. 395 and 396, all of which have come under the tutelage of USA Water Polo Hall of Famer Jamey Wright... The 100th victory was an 11-8 decision over Redlands back on March 30, 2001, while the 200th came almost exactly five years later against CSU Bakersfield... UC Davis’ 300th win was a 10-6 triumph over Brown at the 2010 Roadrunner Invitational, also in late March and mere weeks after Wright’s Hall of Fame selection was announced... Of course, Wright’s tenure at the helm dates back to the early 1980s, when he coached the women’s club while earning a teaching credential and, later, a law degree... However, no win-loss records exist from that era, and the NCAA only recognizes records of varsity programs... Senior Allyson Hansen finished the weekend with four goals, raising her career total to 129... She needs a hat trick to tie former teammate Dakotah Mohr (2008-12)... Somewhat more obscure is that senior Ariel Arcidiacono has 122 career collegiate goals… She was one of the WWPA's leading scorers at Colorado State before transferring to UC Davis in 2014… Hansen also has 31 total drawn exclusions (27 kickouts plus four five-meter), lifting her career total to 203... She is now just the third Aggie to join the double-century club, along with Mohr and Christi Raycraft (2005-08).

No. 13 UC SAN DIEGO (6-4) jumped six spots in the national poll after an impressive showing at its own Triton Invitational... That weekend included a decisive win over then-No. 17 Indiana, a 12-11 sudden-victory upset of No. 11 UC Santa Barbara, plus a mere 5-3 setback to No. 9 UC Irvine... Junior Lauren Boyer posted eight goals and eight steals to earn WWPA Player of the Week honors... The Tritons had a bye last weekend... No. 14 LOYOLA MARYMOUNT (4-6) faced nothing but nationally ranked teams throughout February, even taking a 15-11 upset from UCSB to close out the Triton Invite... The Lions’ tough slate also includes one-goal losses to No. 7 Michigan and No. 12 Pacific three weeks ago at the Stanford Invite... Senior utility Bridgette Alavarez paced LMU with eight goals at the Triton, while two-time All-American Ivana Castro had seven of her team’s 24 goals at Stanford back in early February... Like UCSD, Loyola Marymount took a weekend off between the Triton and UCI tourneys... No. 4 STANFORD (9-1) returned from a bye weekend to amass 31 combined goals in victories against UC Davis and Brown at the Davis Shootout... Sophomore goalie Julia Hermann earned MPSF Player of the Week for her part: 21 saves with five goals allowed (all by Aggies)... Five Cardinal players have double-digit scoring in 10 games thus far, led by junior Jamie Neushul (21) and freshman Kat Klass (19).