Women’s, men’s soccer go from screen to green as both teams take first trips since pandemic

Soccer athletes on the sidelines during practice on Jack Kemp field at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Sept. 10, 2021. Em Balaghi/The Occidental

The Occidental women’s soccer team travelled Sept. 4 to San Diego, CA, while the men’s team was in San Antonio, TX, for their first travel competitions of the season that weekend. The women’s team picked up a 2–0 win against Soka University on Monday Sept. 6, while the men’s team lost 5–2 against Trinity University on Sept. 3, 3–2 against Southwestern University on Sept. 5 and 2–1 against Willamette University on Sept. 6.

According to midfielder Anna Fukushima (sophomore), the women’s team left the college for San Diego, CA, on a charter bus Saturday morning to spend the weekend getting to know each other. On Monday Sept. 6, they drove to Aliso Viejo to play Soka University, where Olivia Haga (sophomore) and Rachel Kolpa (senior) each scored for Occidental in their fifth game of the season.

According to Fukushima, this was a good game for the women’s team, in part because playing time was spread throughout the roster.

“Both of the goals we scored were really good team goals,” Fukushima said.

Jazz Henry (junior), a forward on the men’s team, said his team arrived in San Antonio, TX, by plane around 1 a.m. Friday, Sept. 3. They returned to the college on the night of Monday Sep. 6.

Men’s soccer head coach Rod Lafaurie said the trip was positive despite the team’s losses, and it was valuable for the team to compete against such talented teams.

“After speaking with the opponents and seeing them first hand, I’m confident that two or all three will be in the NCAA tournament,” Lafaurie said.

Newcomers Max Stanley (first year) and Sam Jenkins (first year) scored Occidental’s two goals in the team’s first game against Trinity University, while Matthew Teplitz (senior) and Adrian Paredes (junior) scored Occidental’s two goals against Southwestern University.

Lafaurie said he was pleased with the effort his players brought to the field against Willamette University in the team’s final game.

“In this game, another first year Kai Fiedelholtz also opened his scoring account and we are hopeful that Kai has many more goals as a forward in his career,” Lafaurie said.

According to Lafaurie, having played with a lead in all three games demonstrates that the ceiling for the men’s team is high this season, but they still have things to work on.

“Though we didn’t get the results we wanted, we got the results we needed. And trust me, that although we’ve lost the games, we will not lose the lessons,” Lafaurie said.

Lafaurie said that the heat and humidity in Texas posed a challenge, but that the team coped well. Henry said he credits the players’ adaptability and the work the coaches have done to make sure the team was physically and mentally prepared.

The women’s team also faced challenging heat in San Diego according to striker Anaise Nugent (junior), which gave the players more opportunities to rotate on the field. The women’s team has been improving all season, according to Fukushima.

“Every game we have built on our prior performances, every game we’ve been better,” Fukushima said, “This was our peak so far.”

Men’s soccer athletes practicing against each other on Jack Kemp field at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Sept. 10, 2021. Em Balaghi/The Occidental

While the team remains undefeated through their first four games, the effects of the pandemic will make this season an interesting one according to Nugent.

“Half the team hasn’t played a season yet at Occidental,” Nugent said. “We’ve had some connection over zoom, but nothing that’s like being in person.”

Lafaurie said that while there are a handful of seniors on the men’s team with a lot of experience, he thinks it is important to remember that the three classes below have much less.

Fukushima said this trip differed from previous years in part because masks had to be worn during the entire bus ride, except for while eating or drinking. While no strict policies were enforced by staff at the team’s hotel, the team chose to wear their masks while lounging in the hotel or going out to eat, according to Fukushima.

According to Henry, players on the men’s team wore their masks during the flight as well.

“We’re wearing the Oxy shirts — we need to be as responsible as we can,” Henry said.

Fukushima said the women’s team paired two upperclassmen with two underclassmen to share rooms, which allowed players in different years to bond with one another after years of only communicating virtually.

“We were actually interacting and we actually got to know each other, which was really exciting,” Fukushima said.

Henry said that upperclassmen from the men’s team also roomed with underclassmen as part of a mentor-mentee program.

“I love it. It’s a good way for us to get to know each other,” Henry said.

Lafaurie said the men’s team visited the Alamo and spent free time together in the hotel, which he hopes will bring the team closer.

“We did many team meals and meetings, and the team will continue to come together because of the trip,” Lafaurie said.

With their first overnight trips concluded, both teams are setting their sights on new goals. Nugent said her team hopes to qualify for the NCAA championships, and that winning is definitely in the cards for them.

Occidental’s soccer teams will both face Chapman University Sept. 15, with the men’s team traveling to Chapman for a 4 p.m. game, while the women’s team face the Panthers at home at 7 p.m.