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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Men’s soccer kicks off conference play

The UC Davis Men’s Soccer team looks to repeat as conference champions after long layoff

After a layoff of almost two years, the UC Davis Men’s soccer team will look to defend their Big West Conference crown. Winning both the regular season and tournament title, the Aggies’ taste of NCAA Tournament play in 2019 has left them on a mission to repeat. With both veteran and young presence at each position, UC Davis is ready for whatever the tough Big West Conference may throw at them.

Since the cancellation of fall sports by the Big West Conference in 2020 included soccer, the Aggies were unable to suit up last year due to COVID-19. Itching to get back on the field, the team got their chance to return against the #9 ranked Washington Huskies after two exhibition games. The hard-fought battle against the highly ranked Huskies went back and forth but unfortunately for UC Davis, they fell in double overtime. 

After another loss to Seattle University a couple days later, the Aggies traveled back home for their home opener against Gonzaga. In this game, UC Davis was unable to find the back of the net and fell victim to a late goal once again that sunk them, starting off their season with three straight losses. The rough start to the season only continued, as the team traveled south to San Jose State and gave up five goals in a 2-5 loss. Just a couple of days after the team traveled to San Diego, they suffered their fifth straight loss against the red-hot San Diego State team.

Despite the five straight losses to start the season, the team wasn’t too worried. The class of opponents they played in their non-conference schedule were high, and following a long layoff like the one they endured, they knew that they could improve from it. 

“We played at the University of Washington to open the season and they’re 7-0,” head coach Dwayne Schaffer said. “We gave them everything they could handle, but unfortunately it didn’t go our way. We played at San Diego State — which is another Pac-12 associate member — and they’re ranked in the top 20 in the country. I feel really good about our team.”

The tough start didn’t deter the mindset of the team as shown in their last four games since then. A win at the University of San Diego by a score of 3-0 gave the Aggies their first win of the year. Having had all of those games on the road, the return to Davis was a welcome one for the team, as they went on a tear throughout their three game non-conference home stretch. Hosting Saint Mary’s they shut them out as well by the same score of 3-0 following a brace by sophomore midfielder Max Arfsten — who has six goals in nine games played thus far. Almost a week later, the Aggies had a scoring flurry again as they beat the University of San Francisco 4-1 and later on that week closed off their non-conference schedule with a 1-0 thriller against University of Pacific. 

“Unfortunately the results didn’t go our way in the first five games but now they are,” Schaffer said after the win against Pacific. “It’s all because their effort and attitude is incredible in getting better. We also have a ton of talent and we got a great group of senior veteran players in the group that are improving daily.”

Closing out non conference play with four straight wins was exactly what the team needed as they entered Big West Conference play. In the preseason poll, the Aggies were tied as favorites with the always great UC Santa Barbara Gauchos. In their opening game, the team will travel to La Jolla and take on new Big West member UC San Diego on Sept. 29. In their conference home opener, the Aggies will take on none other than the Gauchos in an early season clash on Oct. 2 at Aggie Soccer Field. UC Davis beat out Santa Barbara in Davis in the 2019 Big West Tournament Championship game and in their first matchup since, the two are bound to deliver again.

On Oct. 6, the team’s homestand continues as they host UC Riverside before they go on a quick two game road trip to Southern California to play a 2019 Big West Tournament rematch against Cal State Fullerton and against UC Irvine — two teams also ranked highly in the conference. After a home game on Oct.17 against Cal State Northridge, the Aggies will travel to Bakersfield and San Luis Obispo before they close out Big West Conference play at Aggie Soccer Field in the Causeway Classic on Oct. 30 versus Sacramento State. 

“I don’t think there’s one key ingredient [to win the conference again],” Schaffer said. “I think we have some great players that are getting better and better. These guys didn’t play a real meaningful game for almost two years, so we’re just starting to come around where we should’ve been at the beginning of the year.”

After such a long layoff due to the pandemic, the Aggies seem to have found their groove that won them the Big West once again. With players on all lines having experience and a lot of talent in all facets of the game, UC Davis is prepared to compete once again and with the start of classes, the fans at Aggie Soccer Field may be the extra juice that the team needs in order to repeat again. 

“It’s awesome that our crowds are starting to get bigger,” Schaffer added. “As I just told our student-athletes, if you perform well, people will want to come and watch you. Our supporters are starting to come back into the mix which I think is cool. I thank all the Aggie soccer supporters for coming and supporting us.”

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org

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