Photo Credits: MARK HONBO / UC DAVIS ATHLETICS
UC Davis Aggies men’s soccer loses in Big West Championship to UC Riverside 4-2 in penalties
After an strong 7-1 start to the 2018-19 season, the UC Davis men’s soccer team proved why it should be considered a top-level squad. At one point, the Aggies were ranked the No. 17 team in the nation by United Coaches Poll and No. 25 by College Soccer News.
In conference play, however, the Aggies hit a rough patch, losing three and tying one in their first five games. Still playing with the same tactics of constant movement, passing and switching the ball between lines, what started out as a formidable squad appeared to be dissolving.
“Right before conference began we unfortunately had a few injuries that occured at that time, and there were four significant players in the team that all were injured within the same week,” said Head Coach Dwayne Shaffer. “It took us a little bit of time to regroup and get ourselves going again. Another factor is at that time [start of conference] that’s right when school begins. Veteran student athletes are prepared but we had a large group of freshman, and it takes them a while to acclimate.”
After a 1-0 loss to UC Santa Barbara on Oct.17, the Aggies knew that they would have to fight harder in order to clinch a spot in the Big West Tournament. Proving that they still had something left, the Aggies were able to defeat Cal State Fullerton and Sacramento State, on Oct. 20 and 27 respectively, to earn the fifth seed in the Big West Tournament.
“We have a really experienced coaching staff, and Shaffer’s coaching experience helped us to battle back from the bad position we were in but we also just had great senior leadership,” said junior goalkeeper Wallis Lapsley about entering the tournament. “Ultimately, for the season and the playoffs we were at our best so I am proud of that.”
Not unfamiliar with the high pressure and high level of play brought to the tournament, the Aggies did what they do best in the playoff atmosphere: win. Defeating CSUN 3-2 in the first round of play, UC Davis took the semi-final game with UC Irvine with double overtime into penalties. Going back-and-forth with made and missed shots, the Aggies closed the narrow 6-5 victory to head to the championship game.
UC Davis had one more game before they could hold up the championship trophy, facing off against UC Riverside in the Big West Championship on Nov. 10. UC Riverside, being new to the championship finals, gave the Aggies a hard fought battle, keeping the game 0-0 all the way through double overtime. For the third year in a row, penalties were the deciding factor in the championship game.
“It’s [penalties] something we prepare for,” Lapsley said. “It is a difficult part of the game, but that is just the way the game is, that you have to end with a winner and a loser and penalties were the only way to finish the game. When you win in penalties, it’s total elation but when you lose it stinks, so I think we did what we needed to do ahead of time and it is just a coin flip in those situations.”
The Aggies were not able to secure the same result as their semifinal game however, losing 4-2 in the shootout. The Big West tournament victory for UC Riverside was its first in program history. The Aggies ended the year with an 11-4-5 overall record and five seniors graduated from the team.
“They [graduating seniors] have all contributed to the program in various ways, and all of them have had a positive influence on the program,” Shaffer said. “They have also had a positive impact and influence on the young players in the program, so I have been very happy to be able to coach these guys, and they will all be successful young men in whatever path they choose. I am excited for them.”
UC Davis looks to continue their high level of play in the 2019-20 season and bring home a Big West championship.
Written by: Ryan Bugsch — firstname.lastname@example.org