Perfection isn’t easy.
If the men’s water polo team wanted to stay perfect in conference play, the Aggies needed to beat Santa Clara and Redlands during the Aggie Shootout last weekend at Schaal Aquatic Center. No. 3 California was also scheduled on the weekend, which didn’t make things any easier.
Saturday – UC Davis 5, Santa Clara 4
The beginning of the Aggie Shootout did not go smoothly for UC Davis, as it seemed to sleepwalk through the half against the Broncos. Early in the game, the Broncos took a commanding 3-0 lead on three quick goals. So poor was the performance that men’s water polo coach Steve Doten called on the bench to go out and fix it.
“[The first unit] came out slow,” Doten said. “The second line of guys did a great job.”
The second unit held off the blitz, and then it was the Bronco’s turn to face the heat as the Aggies pushed the tempo before the end of the half.
Matt Richardson and Colin Hicks were simultaneously in the zone as Hicks scored two goals and Richardson garnered two assists in less than 30 seconds.
In the second half, Aggie center Aaron Salit muscled his way in and put back a missed shot. Halfway into the third quarter, Ryan Hagens scored the go ahead goal.
Though the Broncos tied the game with a shot of their own, it was Hicks again who took advantage of an opportunity and fed an open Cory Lyle for the winning shot.
Saturday – California 13, UC Davis 8
The Aggies also came out slow against Cal again in this rematch of UC Davis’ first game in Berkeley.
After allowing easy goals to Cal, Doten called a timeout and sent in his second unit with the exception of goalie Kevin Peat.
“To play the No. 3 team in the nation is hard enough,” Doten said. “To come out mentally unprepared, it got really bad really fast. If [the first string] doesn’t want to play, I’ll find [players] who do.”
The Aggies stabilized and struck back.
Richardson found the back of the net at 3:53 left to go in the first period and then fed Salit for a score as the quarter ended.
The second period saw the Aggie offense outmaneuver the Bears as UC Davis outscored Cal 5-3. Salit and Lyle each scored twice in the second period with Richardson adding one more. At the end of the first half the score was deadlocked at 7-7, the upset seemingly within reach.
“[Salit] has been huge for us, and he’ll continue to be huge for us,” Doten said. “He’s such a threat out there and he causes problems for other teams.”
However, the Bears would ratchet up the intensity and take control of the game in the second half. Cal center Zach White would establish dominance in the five-meter and two-meter zones, scoring twice. Luka Saponjic would also add two and the Bears would outscore the Aggies 6-1 after the break.
“Our biggest problem defensively was their center,” Doten said. “[Cal] Zach White can make teams look bad. I think he made us look bad today.”
Sunday – UC Davis 14, Redlands 12
At the time of the contest, the Aggies were 10-4 overall, and 9-0 against conference opponents.
Though they had previously started slow against Santa Clara and Cal, they maintained a high offensive pace as they scored the first four goals against the Bulldogs. So dominant was their performance that at the half, the Aggies led 8-3 and prompted Doten to develop the second string.
Though the Bulldogs pushed for a comeback, the offense kept scoring with Lyle, Bernie Rodgers, and Richardson finding the net and putting the game out of reach.
UC Davis is now 11-4 overall and a perfect 10-0 in conference play. The Aggies will travel to Stockton, Calif. to play Pacific on Oct. 8.
MATT WANG can be reached at email@example.com.