April 25, 2012
Coming off back-to-back conference wins plus Saturday's dramatic Picnic Day upset of No. 8 San Jose State, the 11th-ranked UC Davis women's water polo team hosts the 2012 Big West Conference Tournament as the No. 2 seed. The Aggies earned a first-round bye by virtue of their regular-season finish, and will face the UC Santa Barbara-Pacific winner in Saturday's second semifinal. Game time is 4:15 p.m. at Schaal Aquatics Center.
The Big West Conference champion earns an automatic berth to the NCAA Championship, held at San Diego State's Aztec Aquaplex from May 11-13. This is the fourth year the Big West has sponsored women's water polo and the second year the conference has owned an AQ to the national tournament.
Now ranked in a tie for 10th nationally, UC Davis (17-12, 4-1) has won 12 of its last 13 games entering the conference championship, with a 10-4 road loss to top-seeded UC Irvine standing as the lone setback since the beginning of March. Additionally, the Aggies are 9-0 at home, including victories over No. 10 Maryland and No. 8 SJSU last weekend.
Senior Dakotah Mohr connected for a second-chance goal with 16 seconds remaining to lead UC Davis over the Spartans, marking the third time in five games that the Aggies have won on such last-minute heroics. Alicia Began scored the go-ahead with nine ticks left in the 9-8 win over UC Santa Barbara on April 14, while Mohr netted a backhand shot with eight seconds remaining in the March 31 victory at Pacific. Senior goalkeeper Rachel Tatusko guarded the cage with 12 saves and two steals, earning her a Big West Player of the Week nod.
Junior Jessica Dunn leads UC Davis with 49 goals this season.
(Wayne Tilcock, Davis Enterprise)
In all, the four UC Davis-San Jose State games in 2012 were decided by a total of five goals. The Spartans won three of the matchup in a two-week span back when they were ranked No. 5 nationally. In fact, the Aggies' win-loss record suffered early in the year, having played seven of their first nine games against Top-10 opposition.
"I think there are nothing but positives about this game. It puts us in a positive mindset that if we can beat a San Jose State, we can beat a UC Irvine or a UC Santa Barbara," said Wright. "I think we got the best of both worlds. We won the game and got over that hump. We dominated the game for large portions of it. Then winning it at the end was another big positive. So we got to play a really good team and in a close-game setting."
Not surprisingly, the team's two leading scorers have been their returning honorable mention All-Americans. Junior utility Jessica Dunn scored a hat trick on Saturday to bring her season total to 49 goals. She now ranks fourth in school history with 144 goals, needing just 10 to catch Katherine O'Rourke for the next rung.
Junior attacker Carmen Eggert has 41 goals to rank second on the team behind Dunn, but she has been particularly dominant in Big West play. In the five conference games, Eggert scored 11 goals with eight assists, nine steals, 11 drawn kickouts and four field blocks. She now has scored in 20 consecutive games, tying a school record set by Tiffany Hodgens (twice) and Dunn (once).
A pair of seniors, center Alicia Began and attacker Ariel Feeney, rank third among Aggie scorers with 29 goals each. Both had seven goals during the five conference games and added two more apiece in Saturday's win over San Jose State. A relatively unsung hero on the UC Davis roster as of late has been goalkeeper Rachel Tatusko. With regular starter Riane Woods resting for the conference tournament, the fifth-year Tatusko has made two straight starts. She tallied 10 saves against three goals against CSUN, then had 12 stops and three steals against SJSU.
Saturday's game also honored a sizable graduating class, one that comprises seven seniors, a fourth-year junior and a redshirt sophomore (goalkeeper Jackie Bobson will graduate in just three years). That level of experience, reminiscent of the squad that finished fourth at the 2008 NCAA Championship, is a major reason for the Aggies' performance this season.
"When you're playing your season, the seniors won't improve as much as your freshmen will improve. But will improve is your chemistry," said Wright. "So it's Ariel looking for Elise, Sutterley looking for Carmen, Alicia looking for Jessica. We have two things working for us. We have smart players who are doing more sophisticated things than we've ever done. It has allowed us to be a little broader in the things we've done."
"I think we have enough pieces in place to do it, now we have to go out and do it."
The No. 2 seed granted the Aggies a first-round bye, and Saturday's win over the Spartans should provide them proper momentum heading into the conference tournament, but Coach Wright knows better than to assume any outcome regarding this tournament. The Big West Conference has been highly competitive in its four years of sponsoring the sport, particularly within the championship bracket. In 2009, both Cal State Northridge and UC Davis earned the first-round byes, only to face off in the third-place game. The following year, UC Irvine emerged from the No. 4 seed to claim the conference title. Last year, Long Beach State entered the tournament as the only team with a losing overall record. Then the 49ers upset UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge in one-goal games to advance to the title contest.
Top-seeded and sixth-ranked UC IRVINE ran the Big West Conference table for the second consecutive year, compiling a 22-6 overall mark. The Anteaters downed some highly ranked opponents early in the year, including a 9-8 victory over No. 8 San Diego State and 12-9 win at No. 10 Loyola Marymount in February. Their losses have mostly come at the hands of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation's upper echelon: two to Arizona State, one to California, one to Stanford and one to UCLA two weekends ago. Reigning Big West Conference Player of the Year Jessy Cardey leads UCI with 59 goals, while sisters Katie and Hannah Croghan have combined for 80.
Seeded third and tied for 15th nationally is UC SANTA BARBARA with its 19-13 overall record. The Gauchos have battled to one- or two-goal margins in four of their five Big West Conference games, most recently with the 9-8 loss to UC Davis and 8-7 win over Pacific in their final regular-season weekend. Junior goalkeeper Ruth Milne has tallied 350 saves against 209 saves (.626) in her 30 starts, breaking the UCSB career saves record in the season's opening weekend.
CAL STATE NORTHRIDGE, ranked 19th nationally and seeded fourth in the tournament, enters the championship with a 17-19 overall ledger. The Matadors ended a four-game skid by scoring a total of 43 goals in wins over Cal State San Bernardino and La Verne on Sunday. Sophomore utility Jenny Jamison leads CSUN with 67 goals while Marisa Young has netted 62 goals with 58 drawn exclusions.
LONG BEACH STATE holds a 11-16 overall record coming into Friday's first round, falling to UCI by an 8-5 decision to close out the Big West Conference slate. The 49ers' win-loss mark may belie their actual strength as it includes one-goal losses to four Top 20 teams: Maryland (Feb. 11), Hartwick (Feb. 12), Indiana (Mar. 10) and UC Santa Barbara (Mar. 31). Sophomore goalkeeper Kelly Ringel has 246 saves and a 7.73 goals-against average, while junior 2-meter Melissa Matheson's 39 goals gives her a slight team lead over Chelsea Parks (37) and Coriann Snyder (35).
Competing in its final year as a Big West member is 11-16 PACIFIC, which received votes in the April 18 coaches poll. Despite their No. 6 seed, the Tigers have proven themselves competitive with the conference pack, battling UC Davis and UC Santa Barbara to one-goal losses and claiming a 10-9 overtime win over Cal State Northridge on Apr. 14. Pacific's top performer has been sophomore goalkeeper Michelle Relton with her 265 saves, including 19 in the triumph over the Matadors. Another sophomore, utility Elise Martin, has 44 goals and 38 steals to lead the field players.
The Big West Conference tournament begins with the Cal State Northridge-Long Beach State game at 3:30 p.m. on Friday. Full-session passes are available at Tickets.com. Fans may also purchase single-day tickets through that link or the UC Davis Ticket Office (530/752-1915).
2012 BIG WEST CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
UC Davis Schaal Aquatics Center April 27-29
FRIDAY, APRIL 27
No. 4 Cal State Northridge vs. No. 5 Long Beach State, 3:30 p.m.
No. 3 UC Santa Barbara vs. No. 6 Pacific, 5:15 p.m.
SATURDAY, APRIL 28
No. 1 UC Irvine vs. No.4/No. 5 Winner, 2:30 p.m.
No. 2 UC Davis vs. No. 3/No. 6 Winner, 4:15 p.m.
SUNDAY, APRIL 29
Fifth-Place Match, 10:30 a.m.
Third-Place Match, 12:15 p.m.
Championship Match, 2 p.m.