March 11, 2014
DAVIS, Calif. - Ending two weeks without competition, the 15th-ranked UC Davis women's water polo team will undergo one final test before taking another break -- for final tests. The Aggies host No. 14 Indiana in a Sunday home tilt at Schaal Aquatics Center on the eve of the university's week of final examinations.
According to head coach, the contest lands on an ideal spot for UC Davis, providing an important progress report before the start of Big West Conference play. Furthermore, Indiana serves as an ideal opponent, assuming the weekly national rankings are any guide. At No. 14, the Hoosiers sit among four Big West members in the poll, namely Long Beach State (No. 12), Hawai'i (No. 13), the Aggies and UC Santa Barbara (No. 17).
"They would fit right into the Big West from a competitive standpoint," said Wright. "In terms of their ability level, they're pretty much like anyone in our conference. They have a big attacker we want to neutralize and they have two very good centers who we need to know how to defend."
Indeed, Indiana has given UC Davis some close battles in recent seasons. The Aggies rallied back from a 7-5 deficit to snipe an 8-7 win in the ninth-place game of this year's Triton Invite in early February, avenging a 9-8 setback from 2013. The Hoosiers also prevailed in an epic 15-13 overtime thriller at Schaal back in 2011.
Individually, senior and 2012 All-American Shae Fournier paces IU with 29 goals and 11 assists, having become her program's all-time leading scorer at the Fluid Four home tourney two weeks ago. A six-goal performance at that tournament garnered a second Collegiate Water Polo Association Player of the Week award for the two-time Pan American Games gold medalist.
However, Wright will concern himself more with the players in the blue and gold caps than those in the crimson in white. "Playing Indiana will be really good for us. They're not a conference team, but they're good. This gives us another opportunity to see where we're at and what we need to fix. If we were playing someone that we can beat by 10-12, we'd go into conference not being really sure."
The Aggies last competed in a March 1 doubleheader at Santa Clara, taking a 17-3 victory against Concordia of Irvine before holding on to an 8-7 win over the 18th-ranked host. Four UC Davis players -- Carla Tocchini, Sammi Murphy, Ariel Arcidiacono and Allyson Hansen -- each totaled three goals for the day.
In many ways, that foursome is emblematic with the progress this young team has made in the first half. Murphy, who scored her first collegiate hat trick against CUI, was called from redshirt status to active duty in February last season. She suddenly has seven goals and five assists in only 84 minutes of play this year, stepping up her play after the injury to Erin Schlueter. Neither Hansen nor Tocchini played for UC Davis in 2013: Hansen sat out due to injury while Tocchini, a freshman, was a student at St. Ignatius Prep at this time last year. Now they form two-thirds of a potent center trio with Hannah Curran, a group that has scored 79 goals in 2014. Arcidiacono has 19 goals and 23 assists in her first season with the program.
"We have a lot of new people and while we'd like them to get experienced quickly, the reality is that it's going to happen when it happens," said Wright. "I think we've come a long way. Elsie Fullerton is a much better two-meter defender than she was two or three weeks ago. And it's not just defending, she's in a whole different role offensively. Those are things that won't happen in a practice or a week of practice, but over the progression of a season. And we're getting there.
Sunday's game also gives the Hall of Fame coach one last opportunity to firm up personnel roles before the conference season. Big West play has roster limits, slightly lower than the 18 field players and three goalkeepers who have seen action thus far in 2014.
"If I want to play some people to see if they will be part of the rotation, this is the perfect game to see," Wright said. "We want to win games, of course. But we don't want to be short-sighted. We have to focus on the prize. What we gain from this game is what we learn."
Sunday's game with Indiana begins at noon.
SKIP SHOTS: UC Davis final exams begin on Tuesday, Mar. 18; the Aggies will take Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday off from practice before gearing up for the March 29 Big West opener against UC Santa Barbara... This is the eighth meeting between UC Davis and Indiana, with the Aggies holding a 4-3 overall record... Sophomore Allyson Hansen has been the team's overall statistical leader with a team-high 29 goals and 51 drawn exclusions (43 majors, eight five-meter)... Carla Tocchini and Hannah Curran each have 25 goals... Ariel Arcidiacono matches Hansen for the total points lead with 42 (19 goals, 23 assists)... Junior Katrina Husted arguably tops the list of those who have enjoyed breakthrough seasons in 2014: she entered the year with 364 minutes played, four goals and 22 steals in her career... Through 21 games, the co-captain has 15 goals, five assists, 17 steals and a team-leading six field blocks.