Compared to many of his teammates, Taylor Walton (first-year) is relatively new to track and field. The six-foot-five high jumper had been playing just basketball for most of his life until his English teacher and track coach encouraged him to join track his junior year of high school.
“I didn’t really know what I was doing the first few meets, but I tried to learn a little bit,” Walton said. “By the time senior year rolled around, I had gotten better technically, but I still didn’t really know what I was doing.”
Since then, Walton has progressed in leaps and bounds. After one collegiate meet, he has already established himself as one of the top five high jumpers to ever compete for Occidental. Assistant track and field coach Tyler Yamaguchi has high hopes for Walton’s track and field career.
“Barring any disasters, Taylor will likely be a conference champion as a freshman,” Yamaguchi said. “If he stays healthy all four years, likely a four-time conference champion in the high jump. I don’t see anyone beating him, it would be pretty tough to beat a guy like him.”
Walton wants to continue challenging himself and ultimately beat his own record by clearing the seven-foot mark.
“For me, track is a very individual thing, so breaking my personal best is when I’m the happiest,” Walton said.
Growing up, Hugh Pegan (first-year) always identified himself as an athlete. However, the private Buddhist school he attended when he was younger lacked a strong athletics program, so he did not join track until his sophomore year of high school.
“I just wanted to do sports and get out of that environment, so when I left I was like, ‘Well, I’m not very coordinated, but I can move my legs pretty fast,’” Pegan said.
At Occidental, Pegan looks forward to participating in more relay events, something he was not able to do as often on his high school’s small track team. The Ukiah, California, native considers the 200-meter dash his best event—he placed 15th at the California State Meet last year—but he believes that also taking on the 4X100 and 4X400 will be a worthwhile experience.
Although the season has only just begun, assistant track and field coach Tyler Yamaguchi sees future All-American potential in Pegan.
“Hugh is a naturally gifted runner,” Yamaguchi said. “He’s the kind of guy who—as coaches would like to say—make it look easy.”
Pegan said that his motivation comes from the connection he has made with the team, even before he arrived at orientation. He cites current students and fellow teammate Kyle Dalton (sophomore) an influences on his college decision.
“I really like the track team this year, we have a lot of freshmen,” Pegan said. “We’ve started together, and we do a lot of new things—we started Wacky Sock Wednesdays. The family is really cool and that’s what keeps me going.”
Despite a collarbone injury that kept her from playing for months, first-year Sierra Slack received multiple honors in lacrosse at the end of her senior year, including an All South Jersey Honorable Mention. Last year’s setback motivates Slack to make the best out of her time at Occidental.
“I didn’t get to play the rest of my senior year, so I was like a cheerleader slash coach slash captain,” Slack said. “Definitely being out for most of my senior year is really pushing me this year to try to do my best and really appreciate the sport.”
Women’s lacrosse coach Stephanie Janice Mark sees Slack as someone that the team can depend on for goals this season. According to Mark, Slack’s impressive stick skills, poise and maturity make her a strong attacker and overall team player.
“First and foremost, she is a really selfless team member,” Mark said. “She would probably rather assist her teammate rather than score, so she’s definitely a dual threat in that regard. If you try to shut her down scoring, she’ll end up assisting, so she’s really multifaceted.”
During her time at Occidental, Slack hopes to find her place on the team’s attack and contribute to future wins.