Every year, UC Davis Campus Recreation supports clubs to promote leadership skills in competitive and recreational intercollegiate athletics. For the women’s water polo club at UC Davis, the season was far more than just building character.
This year, 16 of the best water polo clubs around the nation gathered at the Florida State University’s Morcom Aquatic Center for the National Collegiate Club Championship (NCCC), where the Aggies stunned heavy favorite Cal Poly 2-1 to claim the title.
After finishing in second place in last year’s tournament to Cal Poly, the Aggies got their revenge this year when freshman Kaylin Claypool scored the game-winning goal to put the Aggies ahead for good with five minutes left in the fourth quarter.
“It was awesome scoring the last goal because we worked so hard to get here,” Claypool said.
UC Davis had been active in contention and they were finally able to accomplish their goal of winning a national championship.
“Our coach Jonny [Gullone] really wanted to win and his desire really motivated us as well,” said senior goalie Christa Arthur.
Jonny Gullone has been coaching the team for several years and finally cleared the hurdle to the championship.
“He is one of the best coaches I’ve ever had in water polo,” Arthur said. He gets along with the girls on a peer level and is very approachable.”
One of the advantages for the Aggies was their depth compared to other teams.
“Sometimes Coach would take out all six players and put in six new players because he trusted all of us,” said Claypool. “He wasn’t focused about one player, but the entire team.”
To win the title of National Champions, the Aggies had to face competition from all different parts of the country. They played Duke, UC Santa Cruz and Michigan State before squaring off against the Mustangs, a familiar foe, in the finals. The Aggies were considered the underdogs entering the finals, seeing that they had a hard time defeating the four-time national champions Cal Poly in previous games.
“It felt awesome to beat Cal Poly in the Finals because we lost to them in the finals the year before and we lost to them twice during the regular season,” Arthur said. “Luckily we beat them when it counted.”
Arthur, who won MVP of the tournament, led the stingy Aggie defense that made history by recording the first ever shutout in the history of the tournament when the Aggies blanked UC Santa Cruz in the quarter finals.
“I think the key to our success was our really strong defense,” Arthur said. “We just finally clicked and communicated really well.”
While the Aggies’ defense shut down Cal Poly’s offensive attacks, they struggled on offense. Finally, junior Lisa Dewar was able to break through with a goal 1:15 into the third quarter to tie the score at one apiece. The teams would be locked in the 1-1 tie until Claypool scored the most important goal in the history of the club to put her team on top.
“I was passing the ball back and forth with my teammate and right when I was about to shoot, I dropped the pass, so I passed it back once more and when I got it back, I took the shot,” Claypool said. “The goalie was a bit far out and I saw there were only five seconds left on the shot clock so I just took the shot and it went in.”
Arthur, who is graduating this year, summed up her experience as a member on the club team.
“I am a transfer student, so the club made it really easy for me to transition to the new school,” she said. “They have become my best friends, and looking back, it was a really great experience and I am really glad I did it.”
JASON MIN can be reached at email@example.com.