Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The Tale Of Two Tournaments

Both of my spring sports -- women's water polo and women's lacrosse -- are one week away from their respective conference tournaments.

The 11th-ranked Aggie water polo team competes in the Big West Conference, for which the championship tourney takes place at Schaal Aquatics Center from April 27-29. (You can buy your tickets at Tickets.com.) The lacrosse team competes in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, for which the championship tourney takes place at Stanford.

Both conferences are brutally tough. Five of the six Big West teams have ranked in the top 20 at some point this season, and top-seeded UC Irvine sits at No. 6. The league will get tougher next year when Hawai'i and San Diego State enter the fray.

In lacrosse, the league roster features a who's who of some of the major athletics programs on the West: Stanford, Cal, Oregon, Fresno State, San Diego State. USC joins next year. And the league favorite this year has the second-smallest enrollment of the bunch: Denver University.

Both teams recently earned automatic qualifiers to the NCAA Championship. The Big West wraps up its fourth year sponsoring women's water polo, which means its members spent a few years hoping only for an at-large. The MPSF finishes up its second year of qualifying a team to a play-in game; this year's champion will face the Patriot League winner.

With a week and change left before the tournament, it's worth looking at the playoff scenarios for both teams.

Women's water polo closed out the conference portion of the season with wins over UC Santa Barbara and Cal State Northridge. A delayed start to Saturday's game against the Gauchos meant the Aggies already knew of CSUN's loss at Pacific. In other words, they knew a win would clinch the No. 2 seed and the quarterfinal bye at their own tourney. UC Davis took care of business with a thrilling 9-8 win over UCSB, then dispatched the Matadors the following day.

The lone remaining game in the Big West Conference is Thursday's Long Beach State-UC Irvine matchup. The outcome of this game determines seedings. If the 49ers upset the No. 6 Anteaters, they move to sole possession of fourth place. UC Irvine earns the tiebreaker over UC Davis by virtue of the head-to-head matchup. With their 1-4 conference marks, Pacific would become the No. 5 seed and Northridge would slip to the sixth spot:

A Long Beach State win...
1. UC Irvine 4-1
2. UC Davis 4-1
3. UC Santa Barbara 3-2
4. Long Beach State 2-3
5. Pacific 1-4
6. Cal State Northridge 1-4

If UCI beats LBSU, the conference must resolve the three-way tie of 1-4 teams. In fact, according to the conference brass, the seedings would boil down to goal difference among the three teams. Northridge beat the Beach by four and lost to Pacific by one. Long Beach defeated Pacific by three and lost to Northridge by four. Pacific edged Northridge by one and lost to LBSU by three.

A UC Irvine win...
1. UC Irvine 5-0
2. UC Davis 4-1
3. UC Santa Barbara 3-2
4. Cal State Northridge 1-4
5. Long Beach State 1-4
6. Pacific 1-4

Odd that the Mats could either be fourth or sixth, all from a game involving the league's top seed. If ever there was a case for the gravity of regular-season contests, that's it.

UC Davis host the eighth-ranked San Jose State as part of Saturday's Picnic Day festivities. This is the fourth meeting between the two teams. If they get any more familiar, they'll start Facebook-friending each other.

Unlike the Big West water polo tournament, not all conference members are guaranteed a spot in the MPSF tournament. In fact, only the top four will play in next week's bracket. Denver and Oregon both have clinched berths due to their 6-0 records. The Pioneers and Ducks square off on Saturday for the regular-season title.

Three other teams compete for the last two spots: Stanford, California and your own UC Davis.

If the Aggies lose to the Cardinal, they're out of the race: the best they could do is tie for fourth place in the conference, but they would lose the tiebreaker.

If UC Davis can beat Stanford, your blue and gold team remains in the hunt. All Aggie eyes will be focused on the Golden Bears-Cardinal game on Friday. A Cal win, paired by a UC Davis win over 0-5 Fresno State on Saturday, would put our team into the playoffs.

Bottom line: put down what you're doing, set the DVR to record Modern Family (mine is set for series recording) and get yourself out to Aggie Stadium on Wednesday night.

This is the 30th meeting between UC Davis and Stanford in the varsity women's lacrosse era, and the Farm holds a huge edge over the University Farm. But that was then, this is now, and we're talking playoffs.

Here is my slate in a nutshell. Just so my mom knows how to reach me.

Wednesday, Apr. 18 - Women's Lacrosse vs. Stanford, 7 p.m.
Saturday, Apr. 21 - Women's Water Polo vs. San Jose State, Noon
Saturday, Apr. 21 - Women's Lacrosse vs. Fresno State, 4 p.m.
Tuesday, Apr. 24 - Women's Lacrosse vs. Saint Mary's, 3 p.m. 
Friday, Apr. 27-Sunday, Apr. 29 - Women's Water Polo hosts Big West Conference Championship 

Mark Honbo, assistant athletics communications director, extends wishes to the families and friends of Scott Heinig, the former Davis High and UC Davis baseball player who tragically passed away one year ago today. Blue Devil/Aggie football player Josh Reese wore an orange wristband in Scott's honor for a department-related portrait taken last week, while water polo co-captain handed out printouts of John Wooden's teachings, which Scott cherished. Other Aggies have paid tribute this year, so his memory remains in many hearts in this town.

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