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Davis, California

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Column: Davis vs. Goliath

Davis is a little town, a quiet village. Every day like the one before.

But Saturday was different.
The Aggies, facing off with eighth-ranked UC Santa Barbara, faced quite a tall task. The last time UC Davis beat the Gauchos was back in 2008, when they were ranked above UCSB and got to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
That was the Aggies’ only win over the Gauchos in the past 6 years. UC Davis holds a 1-8-1 record against UCSB in the last 10 matchups.
But what are all these numbers I’ve thrown at you? Does it prove that this game was a fluke?
By no means. These are to show you that, even though Saturday’s game was on the same level of epic proportions as the we-blew-up-the-Death-Star moment, or that a-1-year-old-boy-defeated-Voldemort incident, it shouldn’t be seen as an aberration.
This should not be looked at as Aggies playing the best game of their lives today, but a breakthrough, the shattering of that wall that was in place due to many factors, none of which are a lack of talent.
Once junior Alex Henry drilled his kick into the top of the opposite corner of the goal, everyone celebrated like the game was over.
But for those last couple minutes, UCSB threatened to score and send the game into overtime. If you want to set a record for the longest time holding your breath, try watching the Aggies’ play the closing minutes of a game while in the lead.
But so far, this is one of the greatest wins of the UC Davis men’s soccer program’s recent past. This is a trend that we can track, that head coach Dwayne Shaffer knew his team was capable of.
“This is what I projected that we’re capable of, since last year we were so young but played and fought every game,” Shaffer said. “We tied the national record with 11 overtime games and I thought we were on that path again this year with 11 overtime games, but now I think we’re starting to get into a groove.”
Now, if this groove is anything like Emperor Kuzco’s, it’s obvious that it will take more than a soccer juggernaut that is scary beyond all reason to throw it off.
The Aggies showed last year that they can handle the top teams in the country. UC Davis took down then-No. 6 UCLA in overtime. Who scored the goal that broke the Bruins? None other than Alex Henry, who is turning out to be quite the giant killer.
“UCLA was a huge win because we were relatively young and it wasn’t expected by anybody because they’re one of the most storied programs in the country,” Shaffer said. “UCSB has been on the top of the conference for so long, in a conference that is one of the best in the nation for men’s soccer.”
Yet, the victory over the Big West Conference powerhouse UCSB means much more to the Aggies.
It’s not just a victory over a top-10 team in the nation. It’s not just a conference win that puts the Aggies in a good position to battle for an NCAA tournament berth and a league title. Nor is it just another victory that stretched UC Davis’ winning streak to four games.
It’s all about where the Aggies are at this point in time. UC Davis, as Shaffer said, has been getting better every day as time goes on.
Since Shaffer signed the huge class of 2014 — the class that consisted of Alex Aguiar, Henry, Omar Zeenni, the Reese brothers and Kevin Schulte to name a few — and the talented class of 2015, UC Davis soccer has been on the rise.
The Aggies continue to develop and cultivate young talent and the lagging wave is starting to really break through. This could be a turning point in Aggie soccer history.
This sort of win will be good for team morale and players will be able to see they have a world-class soccer program here at UC Davis, adding to the prestige of the school and sport.
A full stadium of 1,344 fans showed that some people have figured out that UC Davis soccer is something special. Beating a team that holds every attendance record possible — UCSB pulls in over 60,000 fans every year, averaging close to 5,000 people per game, including the game against Cal Poly that brought in close to 14,000 fans (way more than our football stadium can even hold) — is something like a David vs. Goliath story.
But no longer should UC Davis be considered the underdog that has little chance of winning. The Aggies aren’t just a thrilling team to watch. They’re extremely entertaining and they can beat anyone in the country.
This is what UC Davis soccer is capable of. The Aggies have five more games remaining in the season, all of which will put them to the test. Two against Sacramento State, one more against UCSB and two matchups with Cal Poly.
The Aggies are 6-4-4 on a four-game winning streak and in second place in the Big West. We’ll wait and see, a few games more. There may be something there that wasn’t there before.
What we can be certain of, though, is that these games will be intensely electric. A shining new era is tiptoeing nearer, so be prepared.
MATTHEW YUEN is feeling the pain of Derek Jeter’s fractured ankle. Send your Get Well Soon cards to him at sports@theaggie.org.


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