DAVIS, Calif. - The Big West Conference women's water polo season came to an end last Saturday, with UC Davis taking a tough 8-2 loss against No. 6 UC Irvine. That dropped the Aggies to 14-16 for the year and 2-3 in league play, mathematically locking the team into the fourth seed of the upcoming Big West Conference tournament, held at Schaal Aquatics Center from April 28-30.
Head coach Jamey Wright frequently uses basketball as a comparison when describing the Xs and O's of his sport. Thus, it comes as no surprise that he turns to Jim Les' Aggie men's hoop team as a source of both comfort and possible inspiration after such a loss. After all, the men's basketball team ended its regular season with a 30-point loss to -- oh yes -- UC Irvine. A week later, the heroics of Brynton Lemar propelled UC Davis to a 50-47 victory over those same Anteaters in the Big West final, punching a ticket to the NCAA postseason.
"You have to stay positive," said Wright, nearing the final weeks of his 34th season at the helm. "We have to move forward, and we have a tough opponent in Santa Clara to get us ready. We want to can go into our Friday game [of the Big West tournament] with some momentum."
Indeed, 13th-ranked UC Davis hosts former Western Water Polo Association rival Santa Clara for a non-conference tilt on Sunday. The team will also take the opportunity to honor its four seniors: utility Hannah Harvey, attacker Daniela Hernandez, goalkeeper Avery Dotterer and attacker Emily Perry.
To Wright, the game is more than a send-off. It also served as one more opportunity to right the ship before the conference tourney. "We have to attack the cage but be smart about it so we don't give easy counters. We want to play a good, clean, crisp, aggressive and highly communicative game against Santa Clara," said the USAWP Hall of Famer.
The loss to UC Irvine revealed a few of these leaks. The Aggies shot just 2-for-28 and converted just 1-for-5 on power plays. Of the eight goals against, six came on counterattacks -- four on finished transitions, two on five-meter penalties that came off counters. Fortunately, UC Davis showed plenty of bright spots to keep polished in Sunday's game against SCU, such as solid front-court defense and only two 6-on-5 opportunities allowed. So getting the shooting game literally back on target became the primary focus of this week's workouts.
"Just like basketball, if you're not making your shots, you're swimming upstream the whole time," Wright said. "Even when we were getting good looks, we weren't putting it on goal, so that has been a big emphasis the last two days. We have to put it within the 30 square feet. Even if it goes bar out, you can't even think, `that was really close.' It still has no chance. The goalie could have had a heart attack and the ball isn't going in. You have to make the goalie make a block. We've been doing shooting drills were we want at least two thirds on goal, either blocked or going in."
UC Davis certainly has its share of scorers, with juniors Greta Kohlmoos and Paige Virgil leading the charge with 59 and 57 goals, respectively. Kohlmoos ranks seventh in school history, and tops among true two-meter players. Virgil now ties All-Americans Carmen Eggert and Katherine O'Rourke for eighth all-time. Sophomore Annie Kutt has another 33 goals with a team-leading 38 assists (t4th in school history) while McKenna Hauss (27 goals, 24 assists) and Harvey (26 goals, 30 assists) each have figured on at least 50 points this year.
Sunday's contest begins at noon at Schaal Aquatics Center. The Senior Day festivities will take place immediately before the regular player introductions.
SKIP SHOTS: Attacker Daniela Hernandez appears on the roster as a junior, as she redshirted her first season and technically has another year of eligibility... However, she will graduate this year... On the other hand, two other fourth-year Aggies will come back next season: center and 2016 All-Big West pick Carla Tocchini sat out the year due to injury... Attacker Sammy Preston, enjoying a breakout year (11 goals, 25 assists, 25 steals), has opted to return for 2018... For that matter, Hernandez has also had a breakout season, nearly doubling her previous career minutes while scoring 6 goals and 8 assists as a key reserve contributor.
ABOUT THE OPPONENT: SANTA CLARA (8-17) will face Pacific on Saturday before taking on the Aggies for its regular-season finale on Sunday... Sophomore utility Hannah Buck, who scored a hat trick in the recent win over Cal Baptist, leads the Broncos with 39 goals and 53 drawn exclusions... Sophomore driver Mara Dominguez (11 goals, 7 assists) will play in front of her hometown crowd for the second time... Dominguez, a Davis High teammate of current Aggie Heather Johnson, was an all-section honoree as a junior and senior.
#UCDAVISGIVEDAY: UC Davis' campus-wide Give Day begins on Friday, April 21 at noon and continues through 5 p.m. on Saturday, April 22... All alumni, fans and friends of UC Davis track & field are encouraged to participate... Visit giveday.ucdavis.edu/giving-day/1231/department/2336 to support track & field specifically and/or to learn more information about this unique, 29-hour campaign... Best yet, head coach Jamey Wright has pledged to donate one dollar for each individual donor to WWP... The minimum donation is $10... As the slogan says, every Aggie counts!