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Friday, June 18, 2021

UC Davis Women’s Lacrosse clears championship hurdle

After heartbreak in years past, the Aggies finally overcome them to win the MPSF title

The UC Davis Women’s Lacrosse team’s season was not ordinary this year. After having last season cut short and only being able to play six games, the Aggies were determined to make this season count. Throughout the entire offseason, however, the team did not know if they would even get their shot—setting up their most uncertain season yet. 

“Starting the summer and the fall not really knowing what we were preparing for and how to prepare was the biggest challenge for all teams,” said UC Davis Women’s Lacrosse head coach Suzanne Isidor. “The approach we took since the fall was ‘We are going to be prepared for it.’ We would rather be prepared and then have the crushing blow that it’s not going to happen than it to happen and we look back and think we didn’t do everything we could.”

The ability to train individually in small or large groups was something that took a lot of time and progressed gradually. Despite the rigorous routine of class, training for an uncertain season and constant COVID-19 testing and safety precautions, the team took that challenge and remained focused—something that would pay off in the long run. Still, one of the biggest challenges in the pandemic was growing relationships and team camaraderie—an element that would play a large role in a normal year. With the addition of nine new freshmen, the team knew they had to work together with what they had. 

“It was definitely challenging in the beginning because our team is so close,” senior NPB major Sorana Larson said. “It was especially hard to keep up the chemistry with the freshmen we had never met before, but we put our focus into doing what we could in our small groups. If we could meet in groups of five, we did, or had dinner outside [while] socially distanced. We really tried to work on getting to know each other outside of practice.”

From freshmen to upperclassmen, each member played a big part in sticking together even if they didn’t know what the future held. The team did not get the green light for the season until the month of January following their return from break. Now with a season to look forward to and months of training, the Aggies set out to get back what they lost last year due to the cancellation. 

“We had a great season going last year and then everything got cut short,” Larson said. “We knew we were good, and we knew we could reach new heights that we had never reached as a program before. Especially the four [players] that decided to come back for an extra year, we wanted to create the best year possible for our coaches and teammates.”

Kicking off their season on Valentine’s Day, the Aggies did not miss a beat. Hosting the Fresno State Bulldogs on opening day, UC Davis came out firing, winning by a score of 20-12. Showing off their high-powered offense and fine-tuned defense, the team was firing on all cylinders as if they had never stopped playing. The following week—still at UC Davis Health Stadium—they were able to cruise to an 11-goal victory over the visiting Oregon Ducks. After an impressive win on the road in Berkeley, the Aggies suffered their first loss of the season against No. 22-ranked Stanford. For the next four games, the team alternated wins and losses. 

With the season in full swing, it was still much different than what the team was accustomed to in years past. Throughout the year, they had to get tested three times a week, but one of the bigger changes came through travel. Precautionary measures were taken on the road, as the team depended more on buses than airplanes as a way to limit the chance of contracting the virus. What were once team dinners at restaurants turned into takeout food at a park or even eating inside their own hotel rooms. But despite the changes, the team looked at it from a different perspective—one of gratitude. 

“It doesn’t sound that exciting but just to be able to travel and be together on the bus, stay in a hotel and take all the precautions we needed to take, it was still great,” Isidor said. “We were so grateful to still be able to do it. We got to travel, leave Davis, be safe and compete against somebody else.”

Sitting with a record of 7-3, UC Davis had their April 4 rematch against Stanford postponed due to COVID-19 concerns. As a replacement, they were able to schedule a date with the Colorado Buffaloes. After a slow start, the Aggies rallied back but came up just short, falling to Buffaloes by a score of 13-16. 

Following the loss to Colorado, the Aggies entered what would be the final stretch of the regular season. With two of the final four games remaining against Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) rivals, UC Davis knew they had to win those games in order to clinch an automatic bid in the conference championship game. After knocking off the conference for San Diego State, they were able to handily beat both Oregon and UC Berkeley once again, to set up their final game of the regular season against Fresno State. Having already beat the Bulldogs twice earlier in the season, the third time was no different, as they dominated throughout, winning by a final score of 27-13. 

At 11-4 and one win away from the MPSF Championship, UC Davis was close to the goal they set out at the beginning of the season. Waiting for them was, once again, Fresno State—who edged out San Diego State to book their spot in the championship. The Aggies were no stranger to the MPSF Championship Game, as they lost their only two appearances. This was their first championship matchup against Fresno State, and they would not be denied another conference title. 

Behind big games from the MPSF Tournament Most Valuable Player Sorana Larson, seniors Maddie Myers, Anna Hofgard and junior Kendall Seifert, UC Davis was able to capture its first MPSF Conference Championship in a big 23-13 win. The Aggies also achieved their most wins in a season since 2004, finishing with a final record of 12-4. Led by an experienced group of upperclassmen, UC Davis would not be denied this attempt at the conference championship. 

“I think from the beginning, we knew we had a special team,” Isidor said. “We had the leadership, we had strong attackers, midfielders, defenders, goalies. We had everything we needed so I think that helped us stay focused. We just kept wanting more. This team was never satisfied. It was always what we would do next. I think that’s what made that championship so satisfying.”

The changing landscape of the pandemic during the fall made it hard to predict whether the Aggies would even have a chance at the championship. Now with the title in Davis, the team achieved the goal they set for themselves. Plus, finishing the season with zero positive COVID-19 tests on the team was another accomplishment in itself. Although it wasn’t what UC Davis was used to, the team made the most of it and was able to send the seniors out on a high note. 

“There’s so much that went into [the season],” Larson said. “We had to work through things that we had never faced or never imagined. But we knew if we put in the work and put in the time, we would reach the goals that we wanted to—and ultimately we did.”
Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org

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