For the third time in five years and second straight season, the UC Davis men’s water polo team advanced to the Western Water Polo Association championship game.
Unfortunately, the Aggies lost to UC San Diego by one goal, with an inspiring comeback falling just short.
UC Davis ended its season with a record of 22-12, the third 20-win season in program history.
Friday — No. 12 UC Davis 6, No. 20 Air Force 3
The action began Friday, the Aggies defeating Air Force 6-3 in a defensive oriented game.
Despite playing well in the first three quarters, the Aggies went into the fourth period down 3-2.
“I just told them to keep doing what they’re doing, the defense is working,” said Head Coach Steve Doten. “Keep shooting and the result will come.”
The team responded and scored four unanswered goals to pull away. The Aggies were balanced on offense getting a goal from six different players.
Senior Luke Collins tallied a goal, an assist, a steal, and three blocks to help guide UC Davis to a victory.
Saturday — No. 12 UC Davis 7, No. 10 Loyola Marymount 6 (4OT)
Saturday UC Davis had its hands full, going up against No. 10 seeded and four-time defending conference champion Loyola Marymount.
Talk about thrillers, the Aggies pulled off the upset in quadruple overtime. The contest was tight throughout, and an Aaron Salit goal with 11 seconds remaining in the fourth OT gave UC Davis the victory.
“We were on a counter attack, and Aaron was left open on the outside, so he fired it home,” Doten said. “After four overtimes, he had enough leg and strength to get off that shot, which is another example of the depth on this team, his teammates being able to contribute a lot of minutes to allow Aaron [Salit] to rest.”
Sunday — No. 11 UC San Diego 8, No. 12 UC Davis 7
The Aggies got off to a slow start on championship Sunday, spotting UC San Diego a 3-0 lead in the first period. A Tritons goal midway through the third period built a 7-3 lead, but UC Davis would not go down quietly.
Salit led the way again with a hat trick, and redshirt freshman Chris Richardson added two goals in the fourth period to bring the Aggies and Tritons to a deadlock at 7-7.
On the next time down the pool, UC Davis was charged with two exclusions, and UC San Diego converted the rare 6-on-4 advantage, scoring what proved to be the game-winner on an accidental knock-in by Aggie players. UC Davis also hurt themselves by missing three 5-meter penalty shots.
“That plagued us all season, and it came back to bite us. When you have those easy shots, you have to finish,” Doten said. “It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but honestly, our guys outplayed the other teams this weekend. To see the players peak and play so well after a whole season of working so hard is very gratifying for me as a coach because you can tell they learned and came together as a group. They are a band of brothers that fought to the end and played with everything they had. I’m so proud of all of them.”
Seniors Kevin Peat and Collins each earned first-team All-WWPA Tournament honors, while Ryan Hagens was named to the second-team.
Additionally, Peat broke the UC Davis season saves record with a total of 335. He also became only the third Aggie goalie to surpass the 1,000-save milestone for his career (1,011). Salit’s 83 goals on the season ranks third in UC Davis history, while his lifetime total of 161 leaves him sixth all-time.
RUSSELL EISENMAN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.