In spite of the preseason doubters, the UC Davis men’s water polo team is well-positioned for the program’s first league championship tournament victory in 16 years.
The Aggies, a team selected to finish fourth in a Western Water Polo Association preseason coaches’ poll, host the tourney at Schaal Aquatics Center from Friday through Sunday. As the No. 1 seed, by virtue of going undefeated in conference play, UCD gets a bye into the semifinals and will play Saturday at 12:15 p.m.
The amazing regular season has come in coach Daniel Leyson’s first year at the helm, during which the Aggies have proven capable of beating all WWPA comers (9-0 against league opponents) while going 13-12 overall to earn a national ranking of 11.
“Now we’re on the big stage,” Leyson told The Enterprise. “That means that we really have to be able to execute under pressure. We have to stay relaxed and do what we’ve been working on for months.”
UCD has an opportunity to scope out the competition through Friday’s first round, then will be pitted against the lowest-seeded winner of a first-round match on Saturday.
If the Aggies win their semi, a championship contest awaits them on Sunday at 2 p.m. A victory in the title match comes with an automatic berth into the NCAA championship tournament.
Each step along the way, UCD will be leaning on the contributions of senior attacker Bernie Rogers, who was named the WWPA Player of the Year on Tuesday.
And the decorated athlete’s 2013 statistics tell the reason why: Rogers has thus far amassed 73 total points on 43 goals and 30 assists, while leading the squad with 25 steals.
He is first Aggie to receive the Player of the Year accolade since goalkeeper Mike McGee was honored in 2007.
Rogers also took his spot on the All-WWPA first team and the conference recognized four other UCD players — juniors Chris Richardson and Trevor Allen on the league’s second team, and Zoltan Lazar and Max Vigeant on the all-freshman squad.
Richardson has been a trustworthy attacker for the Aggies with his team-high 48 goals. Allen, who cut his teeth at Davis High, isn’t far behind with the 36 goals he has tallied so far in 2013.
But Leyson is relying on the gestalt of UCD’s squad in the quest to claim the conference title.
Who may pose the biggest threat — between WWPA members UC San Diego (4-1), Loyola Marymount (2-3), Air Force (1-4), Santa Clara (3-2) and Cal Baptist (0-5) — to the Aggies’ title aspirations still remains to be seen.
“One of the things about our conference this year is that a lot of the teams have beaten each other,” Leyson said. “I don’t think that there’s one particular team that has really distanced itself from the others.
“Each game is going to be very interesting and hotly contested. It will make for an exciting tournament, but it’s also stressful at the same time.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at email@example.com or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett.