The UC Davis men’s soccer team has spent the past couple of years trying to make its mark on the Division I scene.
After a 12-5-3 showing last season, a second-place finish in the Big West, an NCAA Tournament appearance and a 6-1 start to the 2008 campaign, it is no longer a matter of whether the Aggies belong in Division I, but a question of whether they belong among the nation’s elite.
“We have an exciting team this year,” head coach Dwayne Shaffer said.
And the excitement is already under way.
UC Davis kicked off the season with a 3-1 victory at home over Long Island. A second half explosion bolstered by two scores from senior Quincy Amarikwa was the key to this victory.
UC Davis then went on the defeat Cal State Bakersfield, San Jose State, Michigan State, University of San Diego and San Diego State with its only loss coming by way of No. 19 Louisville in a 1-0 overtime defeat.
“We played awesome versus Louisville,” said Shaffer. “We had five chances to win the game. One hit the cross bar and one hit the side bar. [Louisville] just sat back and counter attacked us and scored.”
UC Davis’ phenomenal play has caught the eye of many coaches around the country, as a recent coaches poll ranked the Aggies at No. 23.
This newfound respect even has opposing coaches praising the play of the Aggies to Shaffer.
“They will come up to me and say ‘They are good.’ It is a compliment to this team,” said Shaffer.
But with all of this attention, the last thing the Aggies want to do is to get caught up in the hype. However, coach Shaffer assures that that won’t happen.
“With this particular team we have nine seniors and quite a few returners,” said Shaffer. “This is a veteran group that is very motivated. They work extremely hard. Players want to put in the hard work to be successful. That shows good leadership.”
That senior leadership is headed by offensive juggernaut Amarikwa, who has found the back of the net seven times in as many games this season. Senior Sule Anibaba also has three scores this year, with two of them coming in game-winning fashion.
UC Davis also boasts one of the nation’s top assist men in senior Dylan Curtis, who has dished out six helpers this season.
“He was our team MVP last year but received no conference recognitions last year,” said Shaffer.
Sophomore Aggie goalkeeper Ryan McCowan has also been impressive this season, allowing only six goals and posting two shutouts to accumulate a 76.0 save percentage.
With all of the firepower, the aspirations are plenty and the bar is set high in ’08.
Shaffer says that he wants the team to be competitive in the Big West and qualify for the conference tournament. That way the team will put itself in position to win the conference and receive the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
That prospect will not be easy, however, as one foe may lie in the way of the Aggies’ Big West title dreams.
Just days after the fate of the American people is determined, this Aggie dream may also be decided. Four days removed from the presidential election, what looks to be the most anticipated Big West matchup of the season has the defending Big West champions of UC Santa Barbara rolling into Aggie Soccer Stadium on Nov. 8.
“That game will have big implications toward the Big West conference tournament,” said Shaffer. “Hopefully we will be in a position for it to be a meaningful game.”
In reality, the toughest challenge for the Aggies this season will to not get caught up in the hype. This team is no longer a Cinderella. They can no longer fly under the radar.
Now, it is time to prove they are among the nation’s elite.
MAX ROSENBLUM can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
UC Davis at Sacramento State
Today at 4 p.m.
Hornet Soccer Field – Sacramento, Calif.