Big West Play Begins For No. 15 UC Davis

Junior Jillian Wilding has 20 steals to go with her team-leading 106 saves this season.
(Mark Honbo, Athletics Communications)

March 25, 2014

DAVIS, Calif. - In the last 24 calendar days, the 15th-ranked UC Davis women's water polo team has played in but one game, a tough 11-10 loss to No. 14 Indiana on the Sunday before the university's final examinations. The setback allowed the Hoosiers to avenge an 8-7 Aggie victory on February 9, but it also provided head coach Jamey Wright with an excellent progress report as his team enters Big West Conference play.

UC Davis hosts UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, launching the sixth season of Big West women's water polo.

Despite a tally under the loss column, Wright looked at his team's last contest in positive tones. The Aggies converted 7 of 11 power plays while allowing just 1-for-3 against them. They showed the resolve to overcome an 8-5 deficit to briefly take a 9-8 lead late in the third. Furthermore, Wright was pleased with the overall play of his front-court defense. "You're never happy with a loss but there were so many good things from that game," he said. "You can't just ignore it.

Oddly, Wright even finds a silver lining in the outcome. After all, the veteran coach did not achieve USA Water Polo Hall of Fame status without the wisdom of putting process ahead of results: a loss hammers home a well-timed lesson that a win sometimes cannot: It gives us exactly the focal point of this week: we need to protect the ball or we can easily lose the game."

"Where we lost the game, in simple terms, was a horrendous second quarter of taking care of the ball," he added. "They turned those turnovers into scoring opportunities. You can't have that bad of a quarter in what you know will be a tight game."

Tight games are all the Big West Conference schedule seems to offer. All six of the conference matchups in 2013 were decided by two goals or fewer. The last four meetings with UCSB have had such a margin: an 11-9 loss at the UCI Invitational on February 22, a 6-5 victory at the Triton Invite two weeks earlier, a 10-9 heartbreaker in last year's conference tournament, and an 8-7 setback at Campus Pool more than a year ago.



Cal State Northridge, which achieved its program-best No. 7 national ranking on February 26, stormed up the charts by virtue of then-upsets of Long Beach State, Loyola Marymount and UC San Diego earlier that month. Despite the difference in poll positions, the Aggies and Matadors should likely match up quite similarly: CSUN beat Indiana by a single goal one day before UC Davis did the same down in La Jolla, while both teams lost to No. 5 Irvine by close margins at the Anteaters' home tournament.

The similarity between Indiana and what looms ahead allows Wright to put even greater weight on his team's most recent showing. "In the areas where we had some susceptibility, we're playing two teams that can really do it to us. The first time we played Santa Barbara, the first two goals they scored were on counters. Learning from those games is what this week is about, and we're making every effort to do that."

Whereas Wright lauded the play of his front-court defense, it was a two-meter defender who provided the greatest scoring spark in the March 16 contest with IU. Junior Elsie Fullerton scored four goals to go with three steals in that game. Meanwhile, the offensive end continues to be dominated by a triple threat of centers: sophomore Allyson Hansen, senior Hannah Curran and freshman Carla Tocchini have combined for 82 of the Aggies' 206 goals. Curran needs seven goals to match her career high of 33 (set last year) and to hit the century mark for her career.

Attackers Ariel Arcidiacono and Keelia Houston continue to produce in all parts of the course while providing workhorse-like minutes. Arcidiacono had two goals with two assists and a pair of field blocks against the Hoosiers. She leads UC Davis with 25 assists and ranks second only to Hansen with 46 total points. Houston, whose 22.8 minutes per game paces the Aggie roster, had a steal and four drawn kickouts in the team's last outing.

Christi Raycraft (2005-08) was announced as the third women's water polo alumna to earn induction into the Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Fame.
(Wayne Tilcock, Davis Enterprise)

Goalkeepers Jillian Wilding and Haley Cameron have split net-minding chores at a 2-to-1 ratio. Their respective save average (7.3 to 7.4) and save percentage (.449 to .446) are remarkably similar. Wilding also shares the team steals lead with Hansen at 20.

Both of the weekend's games begin at noon at Schaal Aquatics Center. Follow @UCDavisInGame on Twitter for live updates of each contest.

SKIP SHOTS: In five years of Big West Conference play, UC Davis has never split the UC Santa Barbara-Cal State Northridge weekend... The Aggies won both contests in 2009 (road) and 2012 (home), but lost both in 2010 (home), 2011 (road) and 2013 (road)... Alumna Christi Raycraft (Warner) was announced as 2014 inductee to the Cal Aggie Athletics Hall of Fame... Joining Tiffany Hodgens and Katherine O'Rourke as the third women's water polo player to achieve that honor, Raycraft earned second-team All-America honors in 2008, culminating a career in which she totaled 175 goals, 79 assists, 173 steals and 219 drawn exclusions... The former Davis Senior HS standout made the NCAA Championship all-tourney first team as a senior, one of two trips to the national tournament.