Event: No. 7 Pacific vs. No. 11 UC Davis
Teams: Tigers, 8-4; Aggies, 11-4 (10-0)
Where: Schaal Aquatics Center – Davis, Calif.
When: Friday at 6 p.m.
Who to watch: Redshirt junior Aaron Salit is having a remarkable year and is a focal point of the offense.
Though Salit is known for his offense, he is also a crucial part of any defense, and will play a pivotal role against Pacific.
“[Their center] is like California’s center,” said men’s water polo coach Steven Doten. “Hopefully, their two-meter man won’t kill us.”
With Salit having to concentrate on defending down near the Aggie goal, the Aggies may be a little quiet on offense. Salit’s defense, however, has the opportunity to speak volumes.
Did you know? The Pacific Tigers have a number of foreign players on their team, including two athletes that used to square off against each other.
Freshmen Balasz Erdelyi and Alex Malkis went head to head in 2005 and 2008 as they represented their national water polo teams of Hungary and Israel, respectively.
Though the two have competed against each other in the past, the Tigers have surely benefited from them playing together. Erdelyi leads the Tigers with 27 goals and Malkis posted eight saves against a win against tough No. 9 Pepperdine.
Preview: After a tough grind of a schedule that included three weekend tournaments, the Aggies had something they hadn’t faced this season.
“I needed a day off,” Doten said. “It was a grind. Guys were physically tired and mentally tired. It was a much needed break.”
The break gave the water polo team a chance to recuperate, but also to practice set plays – something they haven’t placed emphasis on all season.
“We’re building plays so everything isn’t just a read,” Doten said. “It’s a little more robotic, but I think we need something. Things aren’t working well [on offense].”
Part of the offensive struggles can be solved if UC Davis sticks with its approach of an up-tempo offense. In the past, Pacific has relied on a zone defense, but if the Aggies can get on the attack early, the game can open up.
“We have some excellent speed and guys who are better moving,” Doten said. “We want to be very active on defense, try to make them think, make a bad pass, and get on the counter attack. We don’t want to get into a half court game with them.”
The Aggies are pulling out all the stops as they take on the Pacific Tigers in a game that is expected to be competitive and exciting.
“Pacific is always a fun game,” Doten said. “There’s an institutional rivalry. They are close to here, a [Big West Conference] team, and we’ve always had some great competition.”
– Matt Wang