It was as difficult adefeat as any can be.
In the conference title game last year,the UC Davis women’s water polo team fell in overtime toarchrival Loyola Marymount,6-5.
With a win,the teamcould have advanced to the NCAA Championships.Instead,its seasonwasfinished,and so toowerethe careers of seniors AmberKorner,Katherine O’Rourke and Cassie Schaefer.
“I remember thinking,‘Wow that really stinks.Thank goodness I have another year,‘ because seeing our seniors and how upset they were [was hard],” said2-meter defender Jessica Soza.
After the loss,head coach Jamey Wrightaddressed his juniors.
“I said, ‘Feel how this feels,‘” Wright said. “‘The pain you feel now is why it feels so great when you win.Let the feeling of this motivateyou,because we are going to have a lot of long,early morning workouts and swim sets,and you need to be able to think back to this moment.‘“
Thejuniors never forgot the moment,and this yearas seniors they have avenged it with a season they will always remember.
Tying a school record formost victories in a single season,the Aggies (26-8) have been led by their eight-person senior classto the NCAA Championships,beginning Friday atStanford,Calif.After spending a year seeking revenge from last year’s loss,the team finallyfound it on Apr.27,defeating LMU in a rematchatthe Western Water Polo Association Championships,10-9.
Eight of theAggies‘ 10goals were scored from a senior hand,and the victory came after UC Davistrailed4-2after the first period.
“How we responded to that first quarter barrage was,to me,one of the most important parts to our season,” Wright said. “That’s what you’d expect from an older team – they’re not easily rattled.With a bunch of freshmen,that might have been devastating,but the seniors sort of [said], ‘OK,we’ve been here before.Here is what we have to do.‘ And they started making shots and got us back into the game.“
From his group of seniors,Wright would not have expected anything less.
“I think as a class this is as good a groupas we’ve had,top to bottom,since maybe1993when we won the collegiate club national championship,” Wright said. “You’ve got a left-handed Mary Lowethat can stick the ball and is a great shooter.You’ve got a couplegreatcenters in Laura [Uribe] and Ashley [Greenwood],maybe your best2-meter defender ever (Soza),and another great center in Madeline [Stephenson].You’ve got Christi Raycraft,the second all-time leading scorer who is probably the best all-around player on the team this year.
“And then you’ve got Jacyln Loberg,and I tell you,if we were ever in a pickle for a goalie,she’d do a great job.There’s no doubt in my mind she would be a phenomenal goalie for us.And then Casie Mota,who is one of our most tenacious defenders and toughest kids.She always makes the key steals or the key goals– she’s somebody you always want in the game.“
Wright calls his senior class its own mini-team for the breadth of positions it covers in the pool.Like a mini-team,the group has a close-knit chemistry that is practically supernatural.
“Sometimes I feel like we can read each other’s minds,” Soza said,“and I’ll never say that in front ofJameybecause he’ll always say, ‘You need to communicate! You need to communicate!’ But I can look at Mary,and I feel like I know exactly what she is thinking.“
“I think it’s definitely an advantage,” said Raycraft of the team’s togetherness. “All of us are really good friends with each other,and it makes a huge difference.In a game or practice atmosphere,if you hate each other and you’re trying to make something happen,it’s not going to work.“
WithGreenwood and Uribe providing most of the laughs,Jamie admits it’s not rare that fun will be had at his expense.
“One ofthethemes this year is that they all want to go to Medieval Times,” Wright said. “It’s like a restaurant and show,and they do jousting and whatnot.They’ve been pushing me and pushing me to go,but we haven’t gone,and I don’t think we will go.But there’s talk of, ‘Oh,after the season is over let’s take a road trip down toL.A.and go to Medieval Times.‘
“Soza made a little brochure,and she mailed it to my house,andshe mailed it to me at my work.She’d leave it in my car at Schaal.If I left my backpack someplace,I’d find three or four of them lying in there.There’s a picture of when I fell asleep on thebus ride home from theIrvine trip.Somebody sticks a Medieval Times brochure in my hand when I’m asleep,and the picture is blown up in the locker room,and it’s got me thinking of Medieval Times with bubbles in my sleep.So it’s a funny group.“
But now,win or lose this weekend,the end is less than seven days away.
“I’m totally bummed that the season is going to come to anend,” Wright said.“I won’t have the daily interaction with them.It’s going to be completely different.“
The feeling is mutual with seniors,but they know they have plenty to be thankful for.
“Something that was fortunate for all of us is that we came here,” Soza said. “We all immediately clicked,and I kind of feel like I have30best friends on the team.It’s been so much better than anything I could have ever thought.“
Added Raycraft, “These are people I know I’m going to be in touch with forever.“
MICHAEL GEHLKEN hopes Jamey Wright budges on his stance about not going to Medieval Times,because it sounds like the girls really want to go.Send all brochures firstname.lastname@example.org.