When Occidental announced last year it was canceling its spring season due to COVID-19, the college athletic careers of students in the Class of 2020 came to an abrupt end. One year later, another class of student athletes are graduating under similar circumstances.
Scott Drazan (senior), the starting goalie on the men’s soccer team, said that he was initially skeptical about the impact COVID-19 might have on his ability to compete his senior year.
“Honestly, I remember saying, ‘If we’re still in a pandemic by August, there are bigger issues than our season alone,’” Drazan said. “I think by June or July they said they were going to make a decision on athletics in the fall. And at that point I was just like, ‘Yeah, it’s not going to happen.’ I was working out a little bit, but I kind of just like tapered it off because I didn’t know what I was working towards.”
Drazan, who lives in an off-campus house with some of his teammates, said that keeping some form of community was essential to staying connected with his sport.
“It’s not normal in any sense, but having a couple guys on campus and guys in the house and a lot of guys in LA that we train with — that’s been big,” Drazan said.
Jacob Adler (senior), a captain on Occidental’s men’s basketball team, said the hardest part about losing his last season was that his career had no closure.
“It took me a couple weeks to kind of come to terms with the fact that I was done playing sports for my school; I didn’t really have time to prepare for that,” Adler said. “It wasn’t like I was going through my last season and I was approaching it like, ‘This is going to be my last game.’”
But while losing his senior season was painful, Adler said he was grateful to be in the position that losing a sport was his greatest worry.
“If this year has taught me anything, it’s really about perspective. All things considered, that’s a pretty good problem to have,” Adler said. “In the grand scheme of things, I was able to stay healthy this year, my family was able to stay relatively healthy — I didn’t have to worry about a lot of things that people across the world were pretty pressed with this past year.”
While senior athletes who are graduating may have put their Occidental uniforms on for the last time, Drazan, Adler and Sarajoy Salib (senior) all said their focus shifted during the pandemic to mentoring their younger teammates, some of which have never set foot on Occidental’s campus.
“It has nothing to do with our season, it’s just kind of a family mentality,” Drazan said. “Helping them with their classes was a big one. Not necessarily what you’re working on with soccer, but like, ‘Hey, text us if you need any help with what’s going on in school, like Econ 101 or something.’ They don’t have their first year, but I think helping them out with the day-to-day of Oxy is still important.”
Salib, a diver for Occidental, said it will be hard for her to deal with never getting to dive in the new pool, but seeing new divers get to utilize the facilities will make up for it.
“One of the ways that I’m going to deal with that is by coming to the meets and cheering on the new divers,” Salib said. “Being there for them and being their teammate that way. First semester I cried to my mom when I knew we weren’t going to go back to athletics, but I try to be super positive about it.”
Adler said one of his first thoughts once he had processed the news was to call Kyle Dosa (junior), who will be a captain this upcoming season, to pass on advice.
“Basketball is a team sport; the program is bigger than one person,” Adler said. “It’s exciting to be a captain, but there’s definitely a lot of pressure and a lot of responsibility. Obviously, I’m not that old, but in college basketball I’m like the elder. It’s super surreal.”
Looking back on his career, Adler said his favorite thing about playing basketball at Occidental was the opportunity to develop bonds with his teammates through the many hours of training and competition over the course of each season.
“Friendships that are so rooted in a shared experience — there’s just a bond that no one else can really understand,” Adler said. “You’re going through brutal 6 a.m. practices, crazy conditioning tests, super early morning lifts when you just don’t want to be there, you want to be in bed. But then there are those moments when you finally beat a Pomona, or you finally win a playoff game and you’re like, ‘Dang the last nine months were really worth it.’ You’re going through this with other people. That’s what I think the beauty of team sports is — it’s this shared bond in winning and losing.”
Salib said she will miss the unusual level of camaraderie between divers, not just with her team but with competitors from across the SCIAC.
“One of my favorite things is the other teams. For diving specifically, it’s a next-level camaraderie that’s not usual for athletics,” Salib said.
While Adler and Salib plan to graduate this spring, Drazan said that after talking to his family and friends, he decided to stay at Occidental for another semester to play one more season of college soccer.
“Everyone I talked to was like, ‘You’re going to be working for 40 years. Go play soccer. Enjoy your last semester if you can do it,’” Drazan said.
According to Drazan, COVID-19 has shown him not to take his time as an athlete for granted.
“I was talking to one of the guys who were freshmen when it all happened, and he’s like, ‘I’ll be a junior when I get back,’” Drazan said. “And I was just like, ‘That’s the last time I played.’ It just seems like a blur, that whole past year. Everyone always says that your time at Oxy goes by fast, I remember seniors telling me that and I definitely feel that now, especially with a year gone.”