The Aggies weren’t supposed to be in this position.
Picked to finish fourth in the Western Water Polo Association preseason poll, UC Davis exceeded expectations as the team reached the conference tournament final for the first time since 2007.
UC Davis ultimately fell victim to the same opponent, losing to Loyola Marymount in the finals on Sunday by a score of 9-6.
The Aggies wrapped up the season 18-10 with a second place finish in the WWPA.
Junior Aaron Salit finished the year as the Aggies’ leading scorer, netting 44 goals on the season.
Friday – No. 12 UC Davis 14, Air Force 10
Both the Falcons and the Aggies are usually known for defense.
That, however, didn’t stop either team from racking up goals.
Seniors Carlos Martinez and Matt Richardson contributed career performances by scoring when it mattered.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, UC Davis clung to an 8-5 lead when both Martinez and Richardson netted goals to secure the Aggie victory.
“Martinez and Richardson both had great tournaments,” Doten said. “[Martinez] did so much for us on offense and defense. [Richardson] had a career tournament and was such a high impact player. He played at the best level that I’ve seen him in his last four years.”
Saturday – UC Davis 10, No. 11 UC San Diego 6
Four players scored two goals as UC Davis rolled past UC San Diego to reach the title game.
Though the Tritons jumped out to a 2-1 lead, UC Davis refused to give up. The Aggies pushed the tempo, scoring four goals within ten minutes. Richardson led the charge, finding the back of the net with two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
By halftime, the Aggies led 5-3. Despite the Tritons potent offense, the UC Davis defense held strong, holding onto the victory.
“They did a great job playing as a team,” Doten said. “It’s probably the best I’ve seen them play all season. Our offense came alive, and the new concepts boosted our 6-on-5 [game plan].”
Sunday – No. 8 Loyola Marymount 9, UC Davis 6
In the championship game, the Aggies faced the only WWPA team to top them in the regular season.
Unfortunately for UC Davis found itself on the losing end for the second straight time.
Senior Cory Lyle and junior Walter Eggert both scored two goals, while Richardson and Aaron Salit would each chip in one, but it wasn’t enough to overtake Loyola Marymount. The Lions would roll onto is its eighth conference championship in the last 10 years. UC Davis earned its best conference finish since 2007.
The offense that outran both the Falcons and the Tritons seemed to stall at critical moments against the Lions.
“We couldn’t put the ball in the net,” Doten said. “We missed some open cage shots. [LMU’s goalie] didn’t block many, but we couldn’t get the ball in. Sometimes that happens.”
Still, Doten finds much to be pleased about his team.
“I had no idea that the team would play this well,” Doten said. “They really found the essence of how to play water polo. [Next season] our sights will be set on getting back to the championship game.”
Doten believes this team played motivated and wanted to show something to UC Davis.
“[The team] has a sense of what Aggie Pride really is and the athletes consider it an honor and a privilege to represent the university,” Doten said. “It was one reason that we did so well this season.”
MATT WANG can be reached at email@example.com.