Author: Ryan Graff
Although women’s lacrosse (5-11 overall, 2-6 SCIAC) is only in their second season of varsity competition, they are already making progress both in SCIAC and in overall growth of the sport. Although they have lost their two most recent games, they had two consecutive nail-biting victories over Univeristy of Redlands and Whittier College on April 13 and 20 and are currently ranked fourth in the conference.
On April 13, the Tigers hosted University of Redlands for their final home game of the season and earned their first SCIAC victory of the season (11-10) in impressive fashion. The game was a true barnburner and came down to the final seconds. Captain and midfielder Haley Gandsey (sophomore) scored the decisive goal on a free attempt after being fouled with just six seconds remaining in the contest.
“I didn’t know a foul had been called when the ball got knocked out of my stick. Once I knew that I would be shooting a free shot, I knew I had a really special opportunity. I was overjoyed when the ball went in the net, and I really feel like that victory over Redlands is a testament to the hard work we have exhibited this season,” Gandsey said.
The goal was Gandsey’s first of the game and her 13th of the season. Leading all scorers in the game was attacker Sarah Kessler (sophomore), who had four goals on nine shots.
Midfielder Tori Larson (first-year) contributed three goals and one assist, while Isabel Osgood-Roach (sophomore), Rebecca Belding (first-year) and Laura Mohler (senior) all had one goal apiece. Lauren Wemple (sophomore) led the way with two assists for Occidental.
“We have really come a long way this season, and we are a really close group of players and coaches. We can’t wait to go out and represent this program not only on Wednesday [against Whittier] but also in future season,” Kessler said.
The Tigers carried their momentum from the win with them in their game against Whittier College one week later. The Tigers escaped the Poets by a score of 10-9 to produce their second SCIAC win and avenge a 19-13 loss on April 6.
With their recent successes, the Tigers are excited about the rest of this season and the future of the program. The Tigers boast depth and young talent with 15 out of 19 players being underclassmen, 12 of whom started at some point during the campaign. Young talent has been an asset all season long and was especially crucial when captain Lucy Vallejo-Anderson (senior) and Annie Wolfstone (junior) battled with injuries earlier in the year.
Coach Michele Uhlfelder is particularly invested in her younger players, realizing how much they contribute and how vital they are to the system. “Our team is taking great steps right now to achieve the vision we have for our program. In the future, we want to have a highly competitive team and it is our goal to win the SCIAC Championship and earn a spot in the NCAA tournament. Right now, our success is dictated by motivated and mature young talent that earns respect on a game-by-game basis,” Uhlfelder said.
Uhlfelder emphasized the team’s motto of “Listen, Learn, Apply” and discussed the strides the team has made so far this season. In particular, Occidental has greatly improved upon winning draws, limiting turnovers and understanding how to control the tempo of games. Uhlfelder views lacrosse as a combination of basketball, soccer, ice hockey and track, and sees many parallels to these sports along the lines of aggressiveness and athleticism.
The Tigers have many unique athletes, strong leadership and impact players both statistically and intangibly. Larson leads the Tigers with 37 goals, which she complements with four assists and 62 shots on goal. Kessler and Osgood-Roach, both Second Team All-SCIAC selections last season, have 28 and 26 goals, respectively. Wemple is lighting up the assist column with 15 and is third on the team with 27 total points. Belding leads the charge with 29 ground balls and 46 defensive clears.
Gandsey, who played lacrosse for the first time last year, improved tremendously through rigorous off-season training and has earned herself a spot as a captain and starting midfielder. Goaltender Kylie McPherson (sophomore) has started all 16 games and has a total of 75 saves. Charlotte Bromley (sophomore) has started 12 games for the Tigers and is arguably the biggest difference maker and team player on the roster.
“I absolutely love the Occidental lacrosse program. Being with this team is usually the highlight of my day, and I do my best to play hard and thrive off the high energy that this team brings to the table,” Bromley said.
In addition to being part of the college’s history, the lacrosse team is helping to grow and popularize the sport throughout the nation, especially on the West Coast. In Uhlfelder’s opinion, lacrosse is well suited for California weather and a liberal arts environment, and she believes that Occidental is a front-runner for West Coast lacrosse.
“Our team is geographically diverse and is starting to represent the west. We are recruiting seven new players for next season that we are very excited about. As a program, we are doing our best to expose talented players to the great package of academics and athletics that Occidental has to offer. These women are truly part of school history and are the pioneers of lacrosse in this region,” Uhlfelder said.
The Tigers will play their first post-season game at home against Whittier College on April 27 at 7 p.m. “In order to be successful down the stretch, we will need to stay competitive, maintain our mental toughness and remember to have fun. We [coaches] are very proud of the women for their investment to the program,” Uhlfelder said.
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