No. 13 Aggies finish Big West play at UC Irvine

April 12, 2017

DAVIS, Calif. - High among head coach Jamey Wright’s primary goals for the 2017 season was to see his UC Davis women’s water polo team playing its best at the end of the conference season, just two weeks for the Big West championship tournament comes to Schaal Aquatics Center. Of course, setting a high bar becomes doubly necessary when the final league game comes against the team that has won the league title five times.

The No. 13 Aggies, coming off a 7-6 loss to No. 8 Hawai’i, take on No. 6 UC Irvine at Anteater Pool this Saturday.

“I want to acknowledge that we dodged some bullets in the beginning,” said Wright about the game against the Rainbow Wahine. “They jumped on us but we were pretty fortunate that a couple of their scoring opportunities didn’t go in. We weathered that storm. In the second quarter, we played generally well, especially defensively. In the third quarter, we played better. We had a lull in the fourth quarter and let them get some separation, then we fought back. We just ran out of time. Overall, we showed flashes of pretty good water polo.”

While the game still went into the ‘L’ column, the team did make significant improvements over the previous upset loss at Long Beach State. The turnovers were down, from 17 against the 49ers to just four against the ‘Bows. The team’s 6-on-5 defense was improved, stopping UH on 5 of 7 power plays. The miscues that led to easy goals largely went away, even though Hawaii did manage to score a few transition goals.

“Whenever you lose a game, you don’t like to talk about ‘moral victories,’” Wright said. “I think we’re on our way to playing our best water polo. The team’s body language and demeanor after the Hawai’i loss was dramatically different than the Long Beach loss. We still made mistakes but we had a much better overall feel with how we played the game.”

Junior utility Paige Virgil scored three goals with three drawn exclusions, while senior goalkeeper Avery Dotterer tallied 11 saves against the seven goals allowed. The Aggies struggled to just 6-for-31 shooting in the game, but Dotterer kept her team in the contest with 10 of those saves coming in the second through fourth quarters. Sophomore defender McKenna Hauss came up with a steal and two blocked shots to help contain the Hawai’i offense.

The upcoming game with UC Irvine brings an opponent of similar strength – the Anteaters are ranked sixth nationally – despite a markedly different style. While UH employs a looser, run-and-gun type of transition game, UCI brings a more structured system, says Wright. Of course, the Anteaters can cut both ways, having the defending Big West Player of the Year Mary Brooks at utility and three-time All-Big West honoree McKenna Mitchell at two meters. 

“The one player that’s interesting to me is Mitchell. She’s like Dakotah,” said Wright, referring to his own former standout center, Dakotah Mohr. “She draws exclusions and she’s very tough in front of the goal. She’s always a challenge to guard. Mary Brooks is always a challenge because she’s so dangerous in transition. You control her on offense, then if you turn it over, she scores a counterattack goal.”

The Anteaters extended their winning streak to nine games with a 10-5 victory at UC Santa Barbara, making them the only undefeated team in Big West play this year. Their success should be a surprise to no one: UCI has six Big West regular season titles and five conference tourney wins. 

Saturday’s game begins at noon at Anteater Pool. UC Davis will host Santa Clara for a non-conference game on Sunday, April 23 before hosting the Big West Conference tournament on April 28-30.

SKIP SHOTS: With juniors Greta Kohlmoos and Paige Virgil at 58 and 56 goals, respectively, UC Davis has two scorers with 50 or more... UC Davis has done this three previous times, starting with the 2008 team (Christi Raycraft and Laura Uribe)... The tandem of Carmen Eggert and Jessica Dunn then did it in both 2011 and 2013... The Aggies also have a chance of having five players with 30-plus goals, with Annie Kutt (33), McKenna Hauss (27) and Hannah Harvey (26) joining the two juniors among scoring leaders.... The 2007, 2010 and 2011 teams are the only others to achieve that feat in Aggie history.