No. 11 UC Davis is back and ready to make a run at a Western Water Polo Association Championship.
After going 15-16 in 2009, the Aggies improved to 18-10 last season and fell just one game short of a WWPA title.
The 2011 season did not get off to a great start, however, as the Aggies lost to No. 1 California and No. 5 Pacific to start the year. While UC Davis was hoping to lock down some impressive wins, coach Steve Doten believes facing tough opposition early on will benefit his team in the long-run.
“We wanted to start the season against the best teams we could play,” he said. “To start the season that way is a tough thing to ask of your players, but we improved in those two games.”
That improvement became apparent quickly, as the Aggies proceeded to win their next five games, outscoring their opponents by the score of 75-29 over that stretch.
While Doten knew his team was capable of putting together a strong string of matches, he was especially encouraged by his team’s consistency during the winning streak.
“I think in the past we would have struggled and would have been more inconsistent during a stretch like that,” he said. “I think this year we’ve shown consistency, and we’ve played at a higher level [than in years past].”
The Aggies’ star performer through the early parts of the season has been senior Aaron Salit. The center from Mill Valley, Calif. has scored 34 goals so far and was named WWPA Co-Player of the Week on Sept. 15. With his strong work-ethic and impressive talent, Salit will look to lead the UC Davis offense this season.
“He’s been a great player for us over the past few years, but he’s still continuing to improve,” Doten said. “He’s playing at a highest level I’ve ever seen him play at. His mindset and his focus are really translating to his play in the water.”
Salit will need to be more than just an offensive force for UC Davis to find success this season, however. The senior will need to contribute defensively, an area that the Aggies will look to improve upon this year.
“Our defense needs to keep us in games, and for the most part they’ve played well this season,” Doten said. “If we can hold teams down it gives our offense a chance to win games. [Salit] obviously does a great deal to help us offensively, and if he can be as good defensively as he is offensively it will help our program greatly.”
The UC Davis defense will also rely on senior goalkeeper Kevin Peat both to keep opponents off the score-sheet and to provide leadership both in and out of the pool. The Walnut Creek, Calif. native has started nearly every game since his freshman year and is now in his third season as a team captain.
“[Peat] has been a solid player for his whole time at UC Davis,” Doten said. “He’s always had a high level of intensity and he pushes his teammates to get better. He does so much to help this team and he doesn’t let anything fall through the cracks.”
While Salit and Peat will both factor heavily into any success the Aggies have this season, Doten believes that the depth of this year’s squad sets it apart from past UC Davis teams.
“We have a very deep team this year,” he said. “In order to improve the program and grow we need to have a lot of guys contributing and I feel like we’ve had that so far this season.”
If the Aggies can continue to build on their depth they believe they could find themselves with a WWPA title and an NCAA Championship appearance.
“I have a lot of respect for the teams in our conference and I think top teams are very good. It’s going to be a tight battle until the end,” Doten said. “We’re going to be up there and I think we have what it takes to win the conference championship.”
The Aggies will return to action Friday at home against Cal Baptist. The contest will mark the first of six games this weekend, including four conference matches.
TREVOR CRAMER can be reached at email@example.com.