In a campaign that featured the traditional ups and downs, the UC Davis men’s water polo team experienced its biggest roller-coaster ride in the final 24 hours of its season.
On. Nov. 19, the Aggies knocked off top-seeded Loyola Marymount in the semifinal round of the Western Water Polo Association Championship in San Diego. Less than a full day later, its season ended when UCD was unable to complete a rally against UC San Diego and fell, 8-7, in the tournament final at Canyonview Aquatic Center.
“The highlight of the season was beating LMU,” said Aggie head coach Steve Doten, whose team had dropped an 8-5 conference decision to the Lions on Oct. 29. “LMU has won the conference the past four years and was the No. 1 seed in the tournament. It was a very exciting four-overtime game with two sudden-death periods.”
UCD senior Aaron Salit led the team over the Lions in that semifinal match with four goals, including one that clinched the win in the second sudden-death period. Salit put the ball in the back of the net 83 times this year, the third-highest single-season total in Aggie history. His career total of 161 goals is sixth all-time at UCD.
“Aaron Salit had the tournament of his college career,” Doten said. “He did a great job all year, but was still growing, learning and getting better. He did a great job establishing the inside of our offense.”
Aggie goalkeeper Kevin Peat had a stellar conference tournament performance as well. The senior had 11 stops in his final game, finishing the season with 335 saves to establish a new UCD record. Mike McGee set the previous mark at 330 before he graduated in 2007.
“(Peat) came up with huge saves in the cage time and time again,” Doten said. “He is one of our team captains (along with Ryan Hagens) and did a great job as a team leader.”
Another senior, utility player Luke Collins, continued to improve throughout the season and became a valuable player for the Aggies.
“I thought the most improved player was Luke Collins,” Doten said. “He really stepped up this season to help us in all areas. He was ready and willing to play his role within the team, was there when we needed a goal and played great defense for us.”
For his effort, Collins was named to the first-team all-WWPA Tournament squad, along with Peat. Hagens was named to the tournament second team. Salit was first-team all-WWPA.
Buyoed by those strong performances, the Aggies reached the conference championship game for the third time in the past five years. Their 22-12 mark was the third 20-win season in the program’s history.
And while UCD certainly would have loved to advance to the NCAA championship and get one more thrill ride, Doten was pleased with the Aggies’ effort.
“Overall, having gone through tough times the past few years with the university cutting sports and other economic problems, I was hoping this team could get to the NCAAs as a reward for all of their hard work, dedication and sacrifice,” the 11th-year coach said.
“They are an outstanding group of young men, and I am proud to have been able to coach them.”
— Reach Kim Orendor at [email protected]