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Davis

Davis, California

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

The Aggies stamp their season finale with a playoff berth

UC Davis tops rival school Sacramento State in thrilling fashion

By MARLON ROLON — sports@theaggie.org

 

With an attendance of 869, emotions were high for the remaining seniors on the UC Davis soccer team as this particular game marked their last home game on the pitch under the UC Davis emblom. Stakes were high against bitter rivals, the Sacramento State Hornets, as a playoff spot was on the line.

Fans from both teams filled the seats in Davis, meanwhile, the home crowd was there to show their support to the remaining seven seniors: goalkeeper Derrek Chan, defenders Sean Cooper, Jake Haupt, Kaleb Schirmacher and midfielders Grant Fidler, Emmanuel Doherty and forward Robert Mejia.

“First and foremost at UC Davis we are student-athletes. These guys are outstanding people; they’re outstanding young men, [have] great character [and] they’re super smart kids. They’re a pleasure to work with daily,” head coach Dwayne Shaffer said following the game. “A great group of young men, they’ve brought every bit of determination, effort, heart to the program. They’ve worked hard, they had great careers during their run. It’s been an awesome experience.”

The host team, UC Davis overcame adversity with Mejia’s game winner to clinch a playoff berth in the Big West. After being down 1-0, the Aggies stormed back to tie the game with a goal from senior Schirmacher before the half. Senior Mejia secured the win for the Aggies in the 54th minute with his emotional game winner.

“It meant a lot. The crowd definitely went crazy and that just made it 10 times more special. My teammates were completely excited,” Mejia said after the game. “It was surreal for sure.”

The Aggies finished their season 8-9-1 overall and 4-4-1 in conference games. Causeway rival Sacramento State came into the matchup needing a win or draw to make the playoffs. As their season came to a close they finished with a record of 5-10-3 overall and 3-4-2 in conference play.

UC Davis dominated the first half of the game as they came out looking to make a statement offensively. The Aggies controlled the pace with their midfielders feeding the forwards while coming close to finding the net.

Davis contained the Hornets on their side of the field as Sacramento played defensively for most of the half. That is until the Hornets came away in a breakaway opportunity, striker Jhared Willcot drove into the box past the defense and shot toward the right post. The Aggies goalkeeper, Charles Janssen initially blocked the shot while Sacramento’s Christo Cervantes poached the ball off a rebound into the back of the net to make it 1-0 in the 38th minute.

The home team seemed to be in trouble, desperately needing a goal before the half to cut the deficit. Their needs were met with defender Schirmacher breaking through the Hornet defense for the equalizer right before the half ended as the home crowd was ecstatic.

The second half was more of a competitive battle with Sacramento State pushing the tempo. With the Hornets applying more effort offensively, that created openings for Davis in the counter attack. The Aggies’ Mejia stepped up by dribbling the ball with brilliance past the defenders to get inside the box and score a beautiful goal that would eventually seal the game for the Aggies.

“I’m thankful everyday that these coaches gave me a chance, Dwayne and Jason, they gave me a chance to play here. I’ll always be indebted to them. Soccer is a rollercoaster, you win some, you lose some,” Mejia said. “I’ve had a wonderful career here. We’ve done many good things. We’ve won the first Big West championship so I’m happy that we get a chance to do that again.”

The UC Davis soccer team qualified for the postseason as the fifth seed due to UC Riverside’s 2-1 loss to UC San Diego.

“Everybody in the Big West is really good and so it doesn’t really matter who we play. Coach Shaffer said after the game. “We’re going on the road, and we’ve been a good road team during my career. We’ll be well prepared, ready to go and looking to defend our Big West crown.”

 

Season Review

The 2021 regular season has come to a conclusion for the UC Davis soccer team. The season can be described as a rollercoaster with many ups and downs throughout the journey within the season. The Aggies, who were coming in with high expectations after winning the Big West tournament with 13 wins in 2019, did not emulate the win total; however, they did reach the postseason with eight wins.

UC Davis started their rollercoaster season on the ground with five straight losses which hadn’t happened since 2010. This is not what any one expected from the defending Big West Champions. Davis wasn’t short of talent, this team had many of the talented players from the brillant 2019 championship team. They were collectively out of sync after a year hiatus due to the cancellation of the 2020 season because of the current pandemic and were dealt with bounces that didn’t go their way.

Being 0-5 was the low point and their record indicated that a playoff berth would be difficult. However, the team answered with five straight wins to even their record at 5-5. To show those wins weren’t a fluke, they scored 12 goals, and their stingy defense only allowed one goal. Their rollercoaster ride was on the up as the defending champions’ chemistry began to click.

However, their ride came back down in the following game where they lost to UC Santa Barbara 4-1. Their biggest win came against Cal State Northridge by a margin of 5-0, which marked their highest scoring game of the season. The Aggies showed inconsistency in the games to follow, ultimately closing out the season with a win and a playoff berth as the fifth seed against cross town rivals Sacramento State. They finished with a record of 8-9-1 while qualifying for the Big West for the 10th consecutive year in a row.

Perhaps a combination of things was the reason for their slow start; however, they showed toughness and grit led by their seniors and finished the season strong.

Although this was the last season for seven seniors on this team, the future for the soccer program at UC Davis is bright.

Regarding the next generation of players, coach Shaffer said, “We’ve got a group of young players in the program, and they’re learning from the seniors, and so the future always looks bright.”

With breakout sophomore Maximilian Arfsten, who was the leading scorer for the Aggies with seven goals and six assists, the program is in good hands. In addition, a young player to look out for is sophomore Ryan Dieter who had two goals with one assist in the season. Midfielder Dieter is creative in the middle of the pitch; he’s fast and elusive with a good soccer IQ and can distribute the ball effortlessly. Another player to keep an eye on is freshman Keegan Walwyn-Bent; the forward netted the ball twice, adding one assist. Walwyn-Bent is extremely fast with good inside the box movement who has a knack for getting open.

The season is not over just yet, as the reigning and defending champions have an opportunity to repeat as they get ready for the playoffs.

“This is our 10th year in a row that we’ve qualified for the Big West tournament. As everybody can see, it’s extremely difficult to do that but we’ve done it 10 years in a row. Everybody wants to win a national championship that’s really tough to do,” coach Shaffer said in the season finale. “Our goal is to win a national title, but in order to do so, you have to get into the Big West tournament to even give yourself a shot at it, and so that’s what we’ve done. Here we go on Wednesday; we’ll find out who we’ll play, and [there’s] just excitement in the air.”

 

Written by: Marlon Rolon — sports@theaggie.org

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