For almost four months, Occidental fall sports teams have been training and competing extensively. Teams this season have made national championships and fought for playoff spots. Multiple athletes broke conference records and made All-SCIAC teams. As we transition into winter sports, let’s look back on the seven teams that competed this past semester.
The Occidental women’s soccer team (7-6-4 overall, 4-6-4 SCIAC) had promising moments, a slew of talent and three players who received All-SCIAC recognition, despite narrowly missing the postseason. Julie Khil (senior) and Grace Sponaugle (sophomore) took home First Team honors and Kylie Takafuji landed the Second Team. Khil and Sponaugle were both also named NSCAA All-West Region Third Team.
The women’s team was led by Khil, a forward from Hawaii who leaves a legacy of tenacity for the future of the program, according to head coach Colm McFeely. The four-time All-SCIAC selection took home Women’s Soccer Athlete of the Year in 2014 and had 32 goals in 66 games over her career.
Although the program had tremendous talent, the players overall were disappointed and felt their record did not reflect their ability.
“We definitely had some success this season, but overall we were a little disappointed with where we ended up in the league because we know that the season didn’t reflect the talent we have,” Molly Callans (junior) said via email. “Knowing how competitive our games were with Pomona during the season and seeing how far they made it in the NCAA tournament shows us that could have been us.”
The strength of the underclassmen and the proximity to a playoff run this past season give the Women’s soccer team hope for a promising future.
Men’s Cross Country
At the start of the men’s cross country season, the Tigers set a goal of qualifying for nationals come November. The team accomplished that goal three months later by finishing second at the Western Regional Championships, solidifying their spot at Nationals. Occidental finished 31st in the country at Nationals, competing for the first time as a team since 2011.
The Tigers made notable progress throughout the season after a tough start in September. The Tigers fell to Pomona in their first meet but followed up a few weeks later with outstanding performances by Keenan Leary (junior) and Austin Sankaran (junior) at the University of California Riverside Invitational. This race set the tone for the rest of the season, as the men continued to make progress with every race.
Leary, who lead the way throughout the season, placed 112th overall at nationals, with a time of 25:28:02 in the 8k, out of almost 300 runners. Leary was named First Team All-SCIAC and Sankaran and Jovani Barajas were named Second Team All SCIAC.
Although Leary was Occidental’s top performer, cross country rookie Brody Barkan* (sophomore) took home the SCIAC Men’s Cross Country Newcomer Of The Year award, as well as First Team All-SCIAC. Barkan, who competed in his first cross country season ever, continued to improve throughout the season despite only having experience as a middle distance runner.
The Tigers’ goals come next fall will certainly be much loftier than this season’s, and if their results are any indication then they will be more than up to the task.
The Occidental volleyball team (11-14 overall, 7-9 in SCIAC) had a strong start to their season, returning almost all of their key players including All-SCIAC outside hitter Claire Strohm (junior). The Tigers were in the mix for the playoff tournament up until the end of their season but failed to make it into the four-team SCIAC postseason tournament. The Tigers found success playing at home (6-3) but struggled during away games (2-7). Despite these challenging away games, they still improved significantly from last season (9-15).
“We got to a point where we had a bit of a difficult transition into the second round of SCIAC play, which ultimately led to us to not making it into playoffs,” Anna Yung (junior) said. “However, I’m fully confident that this season’s play and our improvement from last year has prepared us for what will come next season.”
Next season looks bright as the Tigers will only be graduating one player, senior captain Tiareh Cruz, a setter from New York City. Cruz has been a force for the Volleyball Team over the past four years and was named to All-Tournament teams in two tournaments. In these tournaments, she averaged 8.21 assists per set, 2.02 digs per set.
Cruz, as well as co-captains Amanda Herold (junior) and Strohm, set a precedent early on in the season that they were going to work hard and stay physically and mentally strong throughout the season. They are looking forward to next season, where they will have a large upperclassmen presence for the first time since 2013.
Although the men’s football team (1-8 overall, 1-6 SCIAC) managed just one win this year, quarterback Bryan Scott (senior) had one of the greatest seasons in SCIAC history, racking up records and accolades across the board.
Scott led the SCIAC in passing yards per game (339.8) and scored a SCIAC-leading 27 touchdowns. He was named the SCIAC Offensive Player of Year for his dominant play. Scott cemented himself in the record books by finishing his career as the SCIAC’s all-time leading passer (9,073 yards) and Occidental’s single season passing leader (3,058 yards).
According to Scott, he has been in contact with some NFL, CFL and AFL teams and will be exploring options to play at the next level after a stunning senior season.
Scott says he could not have done it without his No. 1 target, senior wide receiver Cordell Harris. Harris led the SCIAC in receptions per game (7.8) and all-purpose yards (1,557). He was also a dangerous special teams player, earning himself All-SCIAC First Team honors for his play as a receiver and kick returner.
“Oxy football has changed my life in tremendous ways, it has shaped me into the man I am today and has been an amazing journey,” Scott said. “I truly am humbled and honored to have played football for such a great school filled with so many great athletes.”
Women’s Cross Country
For the first time since 2012, a woman represented Occidental at the DIII National Championships. Roxanne Valle (sophomore) battled through the 40-degree weather and hordes of runners to finish 142nd in the nation.
After suffering from injuries early in the season, Valle came back strong the second half of the season. In her first meet back from injury, she set a personal record at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Invitational. She then went on to place 11th at both the SCIAC meet and West Regionals. Her finish at regionals earned her a qualifying bid to Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky where she would go on to finish the 6k in 22:13.7.
At the SCIAC Championship meet, the Tigers placed third in the conference behind perennial powerhouses Pomona-Pitzer and CMS. Aria Blumm (sophomore), Eva Townsend (junior) and Fiona Pedrick (first-year) all finished within the top 20 and were awarded All-SCIAC Second Team honors.
Despite graduating senior captain Mel Devoney*, the women’s team is primed for success next year, returning their consistent top four runners Valle, Blumm, Townsend and Pedrick. Although the women were unable to make nationals due to their sixth-place finish at regionals, head coach Rob Bartlett acknowledges that this group of women is ready to build on the progress they made during this past season.
“The team this year grew together and went from being happy to come sixth at Regionals the year before to being disappointed with a 6th place finish this year,” Bartlett said via email. “They’re young, talented and are establishing high standards for themselves.”
The Occidental men’s soccer team (8-10-1 overall; 7-9 SCIAC) just missed out on the postseason this year despite having three all-conference players. After a 2015 campaign that included multiple top 25 national rankings, the Tigers could not find that same form in 2016.
The Tigers were on the cusp of making the SCIAC tournament for the majority of the season. With two games to go, the men’s soccer team faced Pomona-Pitzer in a do-or-die match to determine if they would make the playoffs. Although they went up 1-0, the Tigers gave up two goals in the second half, effectively ending their season.
Defense was an underlying issue for the Tigers all season. This past season the men’s back line gave up 1.70 goals per game — a massive jump from last season’s average of .58 goals per game.
Morgan Bennett-Smith (senior), led the team with eight goals and was the lone Tiger named First Team All-SCIAC. Forward Tod Kawada (junior) and defender Gabriel Barrett-Jackson (sophomore) were awarded Second Team All-SCIAC honors for the 2016 season.
Kawada and Barrett-Jackson will both return next season and head coach Rod Lafaurie sees a lot of potential in next year’s team.
“I know that we have the players capable of winning this conference and making a significant run in the NCAA tournament,” Lafaurie said via email. “We have the right spirit and attitude to achieve our outcome goals and we will continue to keep a positive attitude for the team to express themselves, never give in and [enjoy] representing this program.”
Men’s Water Polo
The men’s water polo team (5-21 overall; 2-9 SCIAC) had two players named to All-SCIAC teams. Matt Munet (senior), who led the team in assists, was named to the conference All-Sportsmanship Team. Goalkeeper Adam Florsheim (senior) was named Second Team All-SCIAC for his outstanding play this season. Florsheim led the SCIAC with 324 saves and broke the Occidental single-game saves record with 26 against Cal Lutheran.
“We have made huge strides over the past year,” Florsheim said. “I’m hoping that our program can continue growing like it has these past few years as we move forward with a new head coach.”
Along with Munet and Florsheim, attacker Paul Bergevin is the only other senior graduating from a young team that featured seven freshman and sophomores. Among the returners is Dominic Rodriguez (junior) who finished second in the SCIAC with 12 assists in conference play.
With new interim coach Jack Stabenfeldt at the helm and a solid recruiting class slated for 2017, the Tigers are looking forward to continue their growth into the next season.
*Devoney and Barkan are Weekly staffers