April 15, 2014
DAVIS, Calif. -
The home stretch of the 2014 regular season arrives for UC Davis women's water polo as the 16th-ranked Aggies host No. 19 Santa Clara for a non-conference tilt on Saturday.
The contest also offers a Senior Day farewell for five graduating student-athletes: center Hannah Curran, attacker Alex Rawlinson, attacker Erin Schlueter, utility Paige Oreglia and utility Katrina Husted. Rawlinson is the lone fifth-year veteran, Curran and Schlueter are fourth-year letterwinners. Oreglia and Husted are juniors by eligibility but set to graduate this year.
Saturday's game bridges the gap between the five-game Big West Conference season and the conference's championship tournament, hosted by Long Beach State from April 25-27. UC Davis went 0-5 in its league schedule but finished with a strong defensive performance against No. 9 Hawai'i over the weekend. The Aggies also claimed a 13-4 win over Cal State Monterey Bay in neutral-site play in Honolulu.
Facing Hawai'i proved particularly valuable for head coach Jamey Wright, as UC Davis will open Big West tourney play against the Rainbow Wahine in two weeks. The newest member of the Big West in terms of water polo, Hawai'i brings an unconventional style of offense that relies less on a dominant center and more on motion.
"There were a lot of things we did really well that I was really worried about going in," said Wright. "Most of the time, they run kind of a motion offense. Different people swim in and post up. They use their quickness, speed and wiliness to create something. They might get five or six attacks per possession. If only takes one of your defenders to not be good on that drive defense. If she gets beat, they get a goal or you get kicked out. It's an effective offense if you don't have a dominant center, and they do a really good job with it."
On top of that, the Aggies had to endure an unusual defense in Cal State Monterey Bay, which runs a "two-goalie" system. Nonetheless, UC Davis put up 13 goals against the Otters -- including hat tricks by Curran, Allyson Hansen
and Hailey Wright
-- then held Hawai'i to just five goals.
Anchoring the defensive effort was junior goalkeeper Jillian Wilding, who continues a strong second half to the 2014 season. She notched five saves and four steals in the first half against CSUMB, then recorded a career-high 14 blocks against Hawai'i. However, credit also defenders such as Elsie Fullerton who, according to Wright, is not the prototypical stopper for the Bows' brand of offense.
"I was worried about how our drive defense would be," said the Hall of Famer. "The people who typically have trouble with it are taller, longer players, like Elsie or Hannah or Ally."
The timing of Santa Clara on the schedule provides UC Davis with another valuable foe heading into the conference tournament. The Broncos (14-11) have gone 10-3 since the Harvard Invitational in early March, and two of those losses have come against the likes of Loyola Marymount (9-7 on Mar. 29) and San Diego State (7-6 on Apr. 11).
Coach Wright sees Santa Clara as an opportunity to build some momentum in the weeks before the Big West championship, and to prepare for his conference's caliber of opponent.
"If we played an easier team, we could get the win and feel good about ourselves for five minutes. But then we'd have to play Hawai'i the following Friday," Wright said. "Santa Clara is playing at a high level this year. They have a great, strong center, which won't help us play Hawai'i but there will be a good center down the road. And Santa Clara does some different things on offense. They drive from different angles and post up different people, so some of this game will be a good tactical preparation for playing Hawai'i."
While the defense has succeeded in the last month, a continuing area of growth for the Aggies lies in the offense. The attacking end managed just 21 goals in the five Big West games. UC Davis countered well, according to Wright, particularly against Hawai'i. However, an effective offense comes down to looking to shoot intelligently during half-court situations.
"The biggest thing is to get back to our aggressive attack where we look to shoot the ball," Wright said. "We have to read the goalie, read the situation, and take the open shots that are there."
Saturday's game serves as a rematch of the previous UC Davis-Santa Clara meeting, which the Aggies won by an 8-7 final on March 1. Live updates are available via the @UCDavisInGame Twitter. First sprint at Schaal Aquatics Center is noon.
SKIP SHOTS: The Big West Conference tournament seeds are now locked in, as Long Beach State SID Steven Olveda has confirmed through the league office... UC Irvine and Cal State Northridge have the top two spots, respectively, and earn byes to the semifinal round... UC Davis will face third-seeded Hawai'i for that Friday's 3 p.m. game, Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara will precede them in the 4-5 matchup...
Wright's concern about his team's tentative shooting this year may be a lingering effect of last year's departed senior class: specifically, Carmen Eggert, Jessica Dunn and Kathryn Bailey combined for 433 of the team's 870 shots (49.8 percent) in 2013... Eggert and Dunn averaged 6.0 and 5.6 shots per game, respectively... The 2014 Aggies have also become more dependent on its two-meter offense... This year's most frequent shooters have been Curran (3.6) and Hansen (3.1)... Freshman Carla Tocchini fires 3.5 per game if you prorate her minutes to a 20.0 average... That trio has combined for 235 of the Aggies' 658 shots (35.7 percent)... Last year's centers combined for roughly a sixth of UC Davis' total attempts.