UC Davis wasn't supposed to be a soccer powerhouse, but a couple of players have helped the team have an impact on the college game and now look to chase career options in the sport at the MLS combine.
By Sean Grybos
The UC Davis’
men’s program is relatively new to NCAA Division I soccer,
moving up from Division II in 2003. Someone forgot to tell the
players that it takes time for a program to mature into a legitimate
contender. The transition period accompanied by such a move ended
after five years, thanks in large part to the play of forward Quincy
Amarikwa and midfielder Dylan Curtis (photos courtesy Mark Honbo, UC Davis Media Relations). The Aggies earned at-large
berths to the last two NCAA D-I tournaments and the program hosted an
opening-round game against Denver this past November. The team won
4-0 at Aggie Soccer Stadium. The victory was the program’s
initial one in D-I tournament play. After the season, the accolades and
awards rolled in for the senior duo.
Amarikwa, an athletic forward, was named the 2008 Big West Offensive Player of the Year. He was also named to the second-team of the 2008 NSCAA/adidas Men's Division I All-America Team. The most impressive of his 15 goals was named as Soccer America’s 2008 College Goal of the Year. It was a bicycle kick at UC Santa Barbara that left the Gauchos crowd stunned.
Curtis, a left winger, was named the Big West Midfielder of the Year. Curtis was a third-team selection on the 2008 NSCAA/adidas Men's Division I All-America Team. He grew into his role on the team tallying 11 of his 17 career assists this past season.
First, let's start with Soccer America's 2008 College Goal of the Year. Your thoughts on the goal and the award?
I was very pleased to hear about the acknowledgment for the goal. I got a lot of positive feedback about the goal from a lot of people, even as far as staff and students of UCSB contacting me through Facebook and congratulating me on the goal. So it was nice to be recognized with an award for it.
What other award or honor from 2008 are you most proud of?
Receiving the Big West Offensive player of the year award. Mainly because of how surprised I was to receive it, as well being the first and only player to receive the award at UC Davis.
Was the 2008 Aggies' season a success?
Yes, I feel it was. We made it to the tournament for the 2nd year in a row, and a round farther than our first showing. This is definitely a great success to establish ourselves as one of the top teams in the nation consistently so quickly into becoming a Division I program.
What was your favorite game from the season?
My favorite game of the season would have to be at UCSB, not because of the bicycle kick, but because of the atmosphere playing at UCSB brings. With all the fans, and playing under the lights, it just makes for a good game.
How has head coach Dwayne Shaffer helped in your development as a player?
He's helped me to learn
the game without taking away what makes me the player I am. He
helped me find the balance.
How have you been preparing for the MLS Combine?
Keeping myself in shape as well as healthy so I can come into the combine in the best physical and mental state possible.
Are you happy to be going down to Florida with teammate Dylan Curtis?
Yes, it will definitely be nice to have a familiar face out there in the same situation as myself with me through the process, so I'm really looking forward to it.
Who has influenced your development most as a soccer player?
I've always been very
self-motivated to be the best at what I did. I think it comes
from growing up and constantly competing with an older brother.
After I went on to play college soccer, my brother, Tyler, was
very supportive and encouraging through the whole process. Overall,
the support from my family has pushed me to develop into the player I
Is UC Davis now one of the premier programs in men's soccer?
I believe they are on their way to being one of those programs. Making the tournament in its first two years of eligibility was an unexpected success in the eyes of other programs. Coming from UC Davis I can tell you that we had set those expectations going into the season. UC Davis is a West Coast power, and as a couple more seasons go by I feel they will continue to prove themselves as a top national competitor as they have in their first two years.
What was your proudest accomplishment from the season?
Earning a home game in the tournament, and then taking advantage of that by winning comfortably to a talented Denver team 4-0.
What is your greatest attribute on the field?
My ability to take on defenders in the final third and find the open man in the box. I did score 5 goals this season, but I pride myself in passing and coming away with 11 assists.
What have you done
to prepare for the MLS Combine?
At this point it is just continuing my training. Making sure I'm running, lifting and playing at every opportunity. I want to make sure I'm mentally and physically sharp while I'm there.
And what is something that you continue to work on as you head down to Florida?
While I do continue to work on crossing and general ball control, my focus is on my fitness. I have the skills to be there, now I just need to make sure I have the stamina to play everyday.
Are you looking forward to going down to the combine with teammate Quincy Amarikwa?
Of course, it helps to have a familiar face in a group of 65 new faces. This is such a great opportunity and I'm looking forward to the trip, and I wish Quincy the best.
Sean Grybos is a contributor to Goal.com
Discuss all things MLS in the Goal.com forums!