Occidental’s signature sport, track and field, has been anchored by a group of seven seniors this year: Louis Jochems, John Guzman Aguilar, Colin Smith and Alex Nieves* for the men, and Grace Bender, Charlotte Selters and Kimberly Orpinela on the women’s team.
The seniors have gained much respect from their teammates and coaches alike.
“I’m very proud of them, they’ve put a lot of work into the sport and into the team,” assistant coach Tyler Yamaguchi said. “They certainly have left an indelible mark on the program. They’re going to definitely leave this team in a better place than where they found it four years ago.”
The team has shattered numerous records this year, many of them posted by the seniors. However, the importance of creating a strong, supportive team has been instrumental to the success of the team. Guzman Aguilar stated the unity of the team and the growth of the program is something the seniors are very proud of.
“We’re in a transition period into something big. We have a really young team and we’re developing,” Guzman Aguilar said. “For the seniors, our biggest accomplishment has been solidifying a team culture.”
Being a team player is not always part of a sport like track and field, in which many of the races are individual contests, but Nieves has been a big part of changing that mentality. He has cemented his position as the leader of the 4×400 relay team and according to his coaches, many teammates depend on him.
“[Nieves] has been an unreal example of what it takes to be a good athlete and he’s certainly worked his way up to one of the best 400 runners in the conference,” Yamaguchi said. “Although he’s not necessarily the fastest guy on the [4×400 relay] team, he is absolutely, without a doubt, the leader of that team.”
Jochems, a captain this year, says that competitions provide the ideal atmosphere for him and the team to race their best and support each other.
“When we just compete with schools within the SCIAC, the team atmosphere and the competitiveness is at an all time high,” Jochems said. “Its always awesome to see your teammates compete and give it their all.”
Selters agreed, and expressed appreciation for the inclusivity of the team.
“Even if I’m not able to score points,” Selters said. “I still think I help the team by being there, and motivating others, being a supportive teammate.”
As for the field competitors, Orpinela has been essentially the only thrower on the Oxy women’s field team for the past three years. This year, Orpinela is no longer alone in the field events, with the addition of sophomores Braelin Stockton and Delaney Nolin, and has been pleased with the change.
“I feel like everyone on the team is really pumping each other up this year to do well,” Orpinela said. “It’s a really good team dynamic now. Everyones closer together.”
Going in to the SCIAC championship meet, the seniors have high hopes for the team to stand on top of the podium at SCIAC.
“Our entire team has been PR-ing all season, it will be really exciting to see what we all can do,” Bender said. “It’s going to be really impressive. Everything from the 4×4 to the 5k and the 10k on Friday. It’s a home meet, we need the bleachers full of fans.”
After college, some of the seniors will be going straight to work on their professional dreams. Nieves will be pursuing a career in journalism, while Guzman Aguilar will be heading to graduate school.
Many more of the seniors plan to keep running a steady part of their lives.
“[Running] makes me feel strong and accomplished,” Selters said.
Orpinela would like to return to her alma mater Eagle Rock High School to coach and organize the track team. Jochems will likely extend his distance expertise to training for marathons. Bender also noted interest in marathons and Ironman triathlons, but first plans to hike the Appalachian Trail. However, Guzman Aguilar’s dedication to running might be the strongest, as he has plans to further show off his abilities by heading to the US Olympic Trials.
Looking ahead to the future, Smith is not sure where the road will take him and likely will take some time off to consider his next move.
“I will definitely need a period of time to process everything,” Smith said via email. “I very rarely missed a day of training in the last 6 years of my life. Part of me is a bit tired of the grind, but there is always that fire inside me that burns for me to be better and faster. I have no idea which one will win after college.”
For now, the seniors are all looking forward to their final appearance in the SCIAC Championships, which will be hosted on Occidental’s track for the second year in a row. The Tigers enter the conference championships with the men’s team ranked second and the women’s team ranked seventh in the conference, and have a number of runners and relay teams aspiring to compete at Division III National Championship Meet, May 21-23 in Canton, NY.
*Alex Nieves is a staff member of The Occidental Weekly.