Event: Nor Cal Cup
Where: Spieker Aquatics Complex – Berkeley, Calif.
When: Saturday and Sunday, all day
Who to watch: Junior Rachelle Smith will look to continue being an intimidating force in the water for the Aggies.
The Valley Center, Calif. native has ranked among team leaders in goals, assists and steals over the past two seasons. Smith had 21 goals, 28 steals and 13 assists during the 2009 campaign.
Did you know: UC Davis opens the season ranked No. 14 nationally. The Aggies started and ended last season ranked No. 9, peaking at No. 7 in the country.
Preview: After losing two All-Americans and with two top players opting to redshirt this season, one would expect the Aggies to falter from last year’s 23-10 campaign.
Just don’t tell 27-year-coach Jamey Wright.
Wright is excited about this year’s squad despite being freshman and sophomore heavy.
“We’re very young, but we have a lot of really good underclassmen,” Wright said. “Qualifying for the NCAA tournament is not undoable.”
With Western Water Polo Association All-Freshman selection Dakota Mohr and top scorer Ashley Chandler both redshirting this season, UC Davis will rely on captains Casey Hines and Dana Nelson to lead the young Aggies.
Both Hines and Nelson will be centerpieces of a strong UC Davis defense.
“Without Dakota and Ashley, Casey and Dana will have a lot more responsibility both in the pool and leading the girls,” Wright said.
The young Aggies’ first test will be the Nor Cal Cup this weekend.
UC Davis is set to play the same four teams it played last season at the tournament. The Aggies went 2-2 at the event in 2009, defeating Pacific and San Jose State while losing to California and Hawaii.
Hawaii, California and San Jose State start the season ranked No. 4, No. 5 and No. 6 nationally. Pacific is unranked.
“All four of the games will be big challenges,” Wright said. “It’s always good to play top teams to start the season.”
Wright said he chose the difficult Nor Cal Cup because it would be a good test for UC Davis to start the season.
“We got our work cut out for us and we look forward to the challenge,” Wright said.
Despite the outcome, Wright wants to ensure the team learns from the tournament. He said the Aggies could be successful as long as they enter the matches with the right perspective and take each game as it comes.