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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

UC Davis soccer is shooting for the top

As students prepare for the inevitably grueling quarter to come at UC Davis, there is one group that has been hard at work for weeks.

The UC Davis men’s soccer team has beaten two Pac-10 opponents (Including then-sixth-ranked UCLA team) and completed a road trip to Illinois, all before most students even concluded their summer vacation.

Despite a 2-3-2 record, there is no doubt in anyone’s mind that this Aggie squad can compete with any team in the nation.

The men’s soccer program has been plagued by injuries in recent years, but sports a fresh set of legs in its young roster.

Head coach Dwayne Shaffer is optimistic about the team’s chances this year, given they remain healthy.

“I’m very proud of the guys so far,” Shaffer said. “They’re a great group of young kids that keep getting better just from the experience of playing at such a high level.”

Indeed there is much potential to be tapped, as about two thirds of the roster is comprised of underclassmen.

Eddie Manella, Matt Sheldon, Brian Ford and Ramon Martin Del Campo are all freshmen that have made regular appearances in the starting lineup.

Highlighting the upperclassmen are Lance Patterson and Rene Cuellar, the only two seniors on the team. The Aggies looks to Cuellar and his three years of varsity experience to lead a solid defensive back.

Patterson has a list of achievements that is as long as he is fast. Shaffer calls him “by far the fastest player [he] has ever coached.” The talented senior earned All-Big West Conference Second Team honors in the midfield and led the team in almost every offensive statistic last season.

This year, though, Patterson has returned to the backfield, heading a defense that has emerged as the strength of this UC Davis team. “Scoring goals in the game of soccer is the most difficult thing to do,” Shaffer said. “Our defense is our strength right now with Patterson, Shawlee and [Omar] Zeenn – they keep us in these difficult games.”

Already the Aggies have had a campaign to remember, and look forward to a season with hope and ambition.

The victory against UCLA was one that will be talked about within the realm of UC Davis soccer fandom for a long time. The overtime goal off the foot of Alex Henry captured national recognition for Aggie soccer, and also gained a name for the school’s athletics program. Taking down the sixth ranked team in the third game of the season is no easy feat for any program.

Shaffer knows his team still has a difficult schedule ahead and hopes this isn’t the highlight of their season.

“The win gave our players the confidence that they can play with any team in the nation,” Shaffer said. “Our goal as an NCAA team is to win the national championship, and we have a tough conference to get through.”

The Big West Conference is one of the best in the nation for men’s soccer. It includes powerhouses UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara, ranked fifth and sixth nationally, respectively.

The Aggies face most of their conference opponents twice, and Shaffer hopes his team will continue to compete at the high level.

“We’ve played an extremely difficult schedule so far, but we’ve been improving,” he said. “We have a young team that is talented and I know they’ll just keep playing harder and smarter.”

As the school year begins and the season continues, the Aggies look to their final non-conference game of the regular season – a matchup with rival Sacramento State.

Shaffer credits the home field advantage as playing a part in their triumph over UCLA and says as the games get increasingly significant and difficult, they could use the support of Aggie fans. UC Davis will face tough opposing crowds in away games, such as UCSB, who holds the record for highest average attendance at their men’s soccer games.

“There never is an easy game in soccer, so when you play at home it’s a huge advantage to have the crowd behind you,” he said.

UC Davis looks to continue its strong season against Sacramento State on Friday at 4 p.m.

Matthew Yuen can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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