Women’s water polo preview

Event: Spartan Invite
Teams: No. 16 UC Davis, No. 17 UC Santa Barbara, No. 2 California, Santa Clara University and No. 5 San Jose State University
Records: Aggies (0-0); Gauchos (0-0); Golden Bears (0-0); Broncos (0-0); Spartans (0-0)
Where: San Jose State Aquatics Center
When: Saturday 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.; Sunday 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Who to watch: Junior utility player Jessica Dunn. She was second in the team last year with 51 goals, led the team with 40 assists and added 45 steals, 14 drawn exclusions and a team-high 16 blocks.

Did you know? 5,683 of last year’s 7,252 minutes — 78.3 percent — return for this season, the highest return rate for the program since 2000.

Preview: The experience and depth of the 2012 UC Davis women’s water polo team has head coach Jamey Wright very excited for the upcoming season.

One of the main reasons is that this team reminds him of the 2008 team, a team that won the Western Water Polo Association championship, finished fourth in the NCAA tournament and finished the year with a school-record 27 wins.

“This team is a lot like the 2008 group in that there is a lot of experience in the senior group, which is pretty exciting,” Wright said. “We have a lot of people who have played together for a long time, and I think they all understand their roles and what they’re supposed to do. Depth is a real strength for us. The challenge for me will be to have trust in that depth.”

The top five scorers from last year’s 20-12 team return, led by juniors Carmen Eggert (57 goals, 33 assists) and Jessica Dunn. Two other seniors, attacker Ariel Feeney and center Alicia Began, along with fifth-year Dakotah Mohr (113 career goals), tallied 30 goals apiece. Mohr has also shattered the school record for drawn kickouts.

The Aggies have a total of seven seniors, including goalie Rachel Tatusko and defender Kaylee Queipo-Miller, who has twice earned All-Big West Conference honors.

Along with the experience of seniors and juniors, Wright also has five players that redshirted the 2011 season, as well as an influx of freshmen, led by centers Allyson Hansen and Elsie Fullerton.

Whoever is in the lineup for coach Wright will be tested early. Four of the Aggies’ first six opponents are in the Top Five (Stanford, Cal, USC, San Jose State). This weekend’s tournament in San Jose will give Wright an idea of personnel use and combinations, and he intends to use his whole roster.

“This weekend, I need to play the people who will play a lot of minutes this season. I need to see where they’re at,” Wright said. “Then I also need to play people in a lot of different combinations to see what else we have or to see if we are as deep as I think we are.

“I have to understand that the team might not be where I want them to be, or they might not be where they think they should,” Wright added. “But we’ll find out this week and we’ll know what to work on for next week. We won’t know any of that until we give them an opportunity.”

The tournament begins Saturday morning at 10:30, when UC Davis takes on Big West conference foe No. 17 UC Santa Barbara and finishes Sunday against host No. 5 San Jose State at 3:30 p.m.

Although this will give Wright a good idea about the season, he said his main focus is winning the Big West Championship, which just so happens to be held at UC Davis’s own Schaal Aquatics Center this year from Apr. 27 to 29.

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