Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series previewing the UC Davis fall sports.
“I’m doing my best to set an absolutely new standard for this program,” comes word from first-year UC Davis men’s water polo coach Daniel Leyson.
“We want this to be one of the marquee programs on campus, and I know we can do that. I know we can be a super-strong program. I have the highest expectations for the players, myself … for everybody.”
Leyson, who spent the last two years as an assistant at two-time NCAA runner-up UCLA, knows a little about world-class water polo.
In addition to being a three-time All-American utility man at USC, Leyson coached at his alma mater along side 10-time national coach of the year Jovan Vavić.
After a playing career in Spain (Club Natacio Atletic-Barceloneta), Leyson assisted legendary Ratko Rudić at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.
He believes he knows what it takes to turn the Aggies into a consistent Western Water Polo Association contender, as well as participate in the NCAA tournament.
“Everything begins with physical fitness,” the 42-year-old told The Enterprise. “And these guys have been excellent over the summer. I really challenged them to get to new levels of physical fitness. They’ve worked hard.”
Thursday, Leyson greeted 20 returning players and 12 recruits in what was the first practice of the fall.
Leyson liked what he saw at Schaal Aquatics Center …
“We’ve been training for eight weeks already,” Leyson said. “And it doesn’t surprise me that they (came to work) in such good condition. The summer was a good time for us to get to know each other, have the guys get a feel for what kind of program I’ll be running.
“We worked on little things that coaches who are established (at their schools) don’t have to attend to: things like terminology. It was good.”
So what kind of program does Leyson run?
“We have to get stronger at every position,” he explained. “There’s no real secret in getting ready. We train hard and it’s up to me to make sure that that training is completely logical for the players … that all we do fits into the big picture.”
When asked about who might be starters, Leyson wasn’t committed to a set lineup:
“I’m reluctant to say who is going to start because a lot depends on your matchups and who your opponent is.”
Among the Aggie veterans figuring large in, what Leyson hopes, will be a relentless front line are 2-meter mavens junior Teddy Nicholson (Davis High), sophomores Jacob Ley (Leland, San Jose) and Tennyson May (Miramonte) and freshman Max Viegant (Granite Bay).
“We have a lot of depth at the center position — and these are some big guys, which is really encouraging,” said Leyson, who added he loved mixing it up near the net during his playing days. “It helps having big guys in the middle.”
Just who will play deeper on the left or right sides of the pool is a work in progress, according to the new coach, but defenders are shaping up in the form of Michael Wright (DHS), Mike Millstein (Monte Vista) and the versatile Viegant.
In the net, UCD has five goalkeepers in camp.
“It’s not such a bad thing,” said Leyson, who added that keeping several goalies means coaches can provide a lot of individual training.
But, with 32 players vying for 25 positions, competition will be keen for many positions and certainly playing time.
The Aggies open play at the Triton Invitational, hosted by UC San Diego Sept. 7-8. Cal Baptist, Air Force (in a nonleague outing), Long Beach State and Cal are on the weekend agenda.
After a to-be-announced slate in the NorCal Invitational (Berkeley), the Aggie Shootout is a one-day affair on Sept. 21. The tourney features Cal, Redlands and Fresno Pacific.
UCD will be at UC Irvine for a two-day gathering before hosting Pacific (Oct. 18) and traveling to Stanford (Oct. 20).
WWPA competition begins Nov. 1 with the Aggies on the road at Loyola Marymount. The locals are at UCSD the following day before coming home for Santa Clara (Nov. 10) and Air Force (Nov.11).
Conference postseason play starts in Davis on Nov. 22.
“Whether we’re going to win this league this year or not, I don’t know,” Leyson offered. “But I can tell you we’re going to fight just as hard as we can to try to do it.”
Notes: Leyson and his wife Camille loved Northern California before moving here recently and buying a house. The coach said he fell in love with UCD when UCLA visited last year. “I’m amazed at this place as a community,” Leyson said. “More people should know about UCD … and it’s my job to make sure they find out about it.” The Leysons have three children, Mia, 3, and twin 1-year-olds, Silas and Benjamin. … Leyson replaced long-time coach Steve Doten in May. Doten led the Aggies to a 14-18 record and an No. 18 ranking last season. … Former All-American UCD goalkeeper Kevin Peat is as an assistant coach.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.