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Friday, October 15, 2021

Column: Seventh heaven

Karen Yoder doesn’t quite know when it happened, but the UC Davis softball coach believes her team just flipped the switch at some point in the season.

“We’re a much different team than some of our opponents saw in February and March,” Yoder said. “We’re just a better team. We’ve learned from our experiences and have grown.”

Senior Sarah Axelson has an idea, though.

“It was definitely when we played Stanford,” Axelson said. “We were at a low point and there was nowhere to go but up.”

On April 6, UC Davis traveled to play No. 8 Stanford. The Aggies lost 17-0 in five innings.

“We just had a terrible game,” said starting pitcher Alex Holmes. “We came back and it was almost like ‘Don’t look back.’ It was a new season starting then.”

In the 15 games following that tough loss, the Aggies rattled off 13 wins – including sweeps of Big West Conference opponents Cal State Fullerton, UC Riverside and Cal Poly.

UC Davis needed every one of those wins as the team finished 15-6 to end the season in a first-place tie with Cal State Northridge. By virtue of taking the series against the Matadors, the Aggies also clinched their first postseason berth since 2003.

As a result, the team couldn’t be happier.

“I’m just stoked,” Axelson said. “This is only our third year in Division I and to win conference during my senior year is just sweet.”

While the Aggies had the goal of winning the conference at the beginning of the season, the prospects weren’t super bright as the team headed into conference action.

The Aggies were 11-21 in nonconference play and were beat up in 10 contests against teams ranked in the top 25 nationally.

However, this turned out to be the best thing for the Aggies.

“Anytime you challenge yourself against the best in the country it only brings your level of game up,” Yoder said. “We played the best. We’re not intimidated by anybody.”

These losses also allowed UC Davis to really focus on the weak aspects of its game.

“We focused more on the weaknesses we had and worked to overcome them,” Axelson said. “Because we were at such a low point we just pounded our weaknesses. We knew what we could do and what we needed to work on.”

Now UC Davis will move on to regionals.

It will most likely play at Stanford or California, two teams that combined to beat UC Davis five times this season. In those contests, the Aggies were only able to put two runs on the board.

The good news for the Aggies is they can start over. It’s a fresh season for them, and they will be looking to show some teams how much they have improved since being blown out in early April.

What they will not alter, though, is their mentality.

That mentality, Yoder said, is to just “play Aggie ball.”

“Yeah, it’s not going to change,” Axelson said.

By winning the Big West, the softball team became UC Davis’ seventh team to win its conference.

This is huge, people.

Think of UC Davis’ conference championships as a stock.

In the first year as a Division I program, three Aggie teams won their conference title (men’s water polo, women’s water polo and gymnastics).

That stock fell slightly last year as only the men’s golf team won its league.

This year was the year to invest. Seven UC Davis teams won their conference this season, and of those teams, three qualified for an NCAA postseason berth.

This trend will only rise next year and in the following years. Several teams that finished in the middle of the pack in their conference are primed for big things in 2010-11, and many of the seven that won their league title don’t show any indication of giving it up.

The women’s basketball team returns with almost everybody. The football program just had its best recruiting class ever. The women’s golf team returns with almost everybody. What more proof do you need?

My advice to you is to invest in UC Davis sports and invest now. Your dollar will receive big dividends at this time next year.

Meanwhile, we’ll watch what the softball team has in store.

MAX ROSENBLUM doesn’t actually think UC Davis athletics is a stock on Wall Street. If it was, it might look like AGS. In case, he would still recommend the investment. Agree with him at sports@theaggie.org.

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