Following a record-breaking season is never easy.
The Aggies won a school-record 22 games while going a perfect 14-0 in Western Water Polo Association play, advancing all the way to the conference title game.
This season has been a different story.
UC Davis lost its best offensive player in Nick Arrigo, their best all-around defender in Matt MacLachlan, and arguably the best goalie UC Davis has ever seen in Mike McGee, and their early season results show the effects of the losses of those individuals.
The Aggies have dropped seven of their first 10 games, including five of their past six.
Some may think this is a rebuilding year, but the Aggies still have a group of experienced seniors and young talent necessary to turn their season around.
“Our seniors have been great, but who else is going to step up is the question,” head coach Steve Doten said. “We have a lot of guys that are all on the same level right now.”
The leadership burden has landed on the three returning starters: Adam Bennett, Adam Lindsay and Grant Muenter. All fifth-year seniors and captains, the threesome will also be looked to when scoring is needed.
Bennett has proved to be the main offensive threat for the Aggies with 24 goals in the first 10 games.
Taking advantage of his sparse opportunities, reserve senior hole set Paul Wilson has helped the Aggies with 13 goals on 13 attempts this season, including three hat trick performances.
Aside from these two scorers, the rest of the team has yet to find the back of the net. The Aggies average just six goals per game.
On the defensive side of the pool, the Aggies are led by an experienced 2-meter defender in Danny Driscoll, who has started at times in each of his four seasons at UC Davis.
Driscoll’s presence eases the pressure on two young goalies that are looking to fill the void left by McGee’s departure.
Hailing from the same town as McGee, sophomore Erik Quinn was proclaimed the “next McGee” while attending Drake High School – McGee’s alma mater.
Splitting time with Quinn is Kevin Peat, a redshirt freshman who led his club team to a national championship at the Junior Olympics in 2006.
“Our goalies have played really well and really stepped up in the absence of Mike,” Doten said. “Most of the games we lost – excluding the Pepperdine games – our goalies have only given up five or six goals.”
UC Davis’ 3-7 record is not quite all it seems, as the team has played five of its first 10 games against top-10 teams.
The squad has attended two big name tournaments this season, finishing seventh at the UCSD Triton Invitational, and then a disappointing 14th at the NorCal Open last weekend.
The Aggies dropped two to Navy this past week, mostly due to their inability to score on man-up opportunities, going a combined four-for-14 against the Midshipmen.
Predicted to finish third in the WWPA, the Aggies still have high hopes for the rest of the season.
“I think that we still have a good chance to be in contention for the conference championships,” Bennett said. “Our team just isn’t clicking yet. When we do, we are going to be a really dangerous team.”
SAMMY BRASCH can be reached at email@example.com.