No. 12 Aggies return home to host No. 8 Wahine

April 5, 2017

No coach ever wants to lose, and certainly not UC Davis women’s water polo mentor Jamey Wright, who has fortunately been on the winning side 417 times in his tenure at the varsity helm. However, Saturday’s 12-9 setback at Long Beach State may offer the silver lining of exposing some points of emphasis and lighting a fire under the Aggies in time for the final stretch of Big West Conference play.

Indeed, No. 12t UC Davis takes on two teams that have claimed seven of the eight all-time league tournament titles: five-time champ UC Irvine on April 15, and – more importantly to Wright at the moment – two-time champion Hawai’i this Saturday. The Aggies host the No. 8 Wahine at Schaal Aquatics Center this Saturday.

According to the USAWP Hall of Famer, Saturday’s return to action revealed two key areas that will become major focal points against the upcoming opponents. 

“Number one, we need to protect the ball,” said Wright. “We just turned the ball over too much. Long Beach State is very opportunistic. They’re not a counter-oriented team necessarily, but if you give them a free turnover at mid-pool, they’ll jump on it. And they did. Hawaii is just like Long Beach State. They’re not super-fast, but they counter well. So we have to protect the ball and not give away easy opportunities.”

In fact, the Aggies committed 17 turnovers – oddly tying a season high previously seen in the previous meeting with the 49ers. The 49ers scored five of their 12 goals in transition, including three scores in their 5-2 start. UC Davis eventually righted the ship and had some bright spots. Junior center Greta Kohlmoos posted her eighth hat trick of the year, while sophomore Annie Kutt scored on back-to-back power plays to help the Aggies convert 4-for-7 in such situations.

The second key will be UC Davis’ offense, and more specifically its offensive aggression against a Hawai’i defense that preys off perceived weakness. “If they sense you’re being tentative offensively, you’re in for a real battle. You’ll get run over,” Wright said. “We have to come out and attack, attack, attack. 

“The good news is that with our centers, and our swimmers and ability to counterattack, we should be able to put that initial pressure on them. We want to force them to play defense and see if we can break them down. If you be too conservative, you play into their hands.”

UC Davis owns the unusual yet enviable combination of having some of the program’s most prolific individual offensive performers and a balanced attack. With 57 goals entering Saturday’s game, Kohlmoos sits a tie for seventh on UC Davis season goals list, while fellow junior Paige Virgil is one goal away from catching former teammate Allyson Hansen (54 in 2016) for ninth on the chart. Kutt moved up to fifth on the school assists leaderboard with 37. Five Aggies have at least 25 goals: Kohlmoos, Virgil, Kutt (32), sophomore McKenna Hauss (27) and senior Hannah Harvey (25). Four have at least 20 assists: Kutt, Harvey (29), junior Sammy Preston (24) and Hauss (23). 

Ultimately, the major plus for Wright is his team’s growth during the year. Twenty-eight games serves a wealth of experience for a team that began the year relatively unseasoned. “We’re learning and still getting better. Our freshmen are pretty much sophomores, and our sophomores are almost juniors. We have to start executing, and Hawaii will be a good test.”

SKIP SHOTS: As mentioned above, junior Greta Kohlmoos brought her season total to 57, matching Carmen Eggert (2011) and Katherine O’Rourke (2007) on the school season list... One more, however, and the Livermore product will boast the program’s highest total by a center... All six higher totals came from utility/attacker types: Tiffany Hodgens (112, 84, 81, 79), Eggert (80) and Jessica Dunn (60)... Annie Kutt largely earns the nod as the emerging star of the 2017 team... She went from 7 goals, 16 assists and 15 steals as a freshman to totals of 32, 37 and 38 in those respective categories through 28 games this year... However, if there is an award for “second-half sleeper,” it belongs to Sammy Preston... The redshirt junior – who thankfully has opted to return for her fifth year in 2018 – entered the season with career totals of 288 minutes played, nine goals, six assists and 11 steals... Preston had four goals, nine assists and 11 steals in the first 18 games of this year, but has seven goals, 15 assists and 13 steals in the 10 contests since.

ABOUT THE OPPONENT: Just two weeks after almost handing No. 1 USC its first loss of the year, HAWAI’I (12-10, 2-1) posted a 13-4 win over No. 12t San Diego State on Saturday... Sophomore attacker Irene Gonzalez scored four goals while junior Chloe Barr added another three... Barr leads the Wahine with 33 goals, although Gonzalez is right behind her in terms of goals per game (24 in 14 contests)... They are two of 12 international players on the UH roster, which has representation from Australia, Spain, Canada, England, Brazil, and the Netherlands.