Athletes of the Week Ariana Carranza and Amir Barkan reflect on their growth

Ariana Carranza (first year), an outside hitter for the Occidental women’s volleyball team, smiles on the Academic Quad at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 1, 2022. Angela Guglielmino/The Occidental

Ariana Carranza

Ariana Carranza (first year), an outside hitter for Occidental’s volleyball team, said that for her, this season was all about attacking the ball and fueling her drive. Carranza recently wrapped up the season, and after 11 years of playing volleyball, reflected on what she had learned from her first collegiate season.

“I learned how flexible I am when it comes to playing positions,” Carranza said. “I just also found a lot of skills that I wasn’t very good at. Like I wasn’t super good in the back row, but now I am doing well back there.”

Carranza said that while improving upon her skills is important, she places more value on the relationships she has with her teammates. The college’s volleyball team is particularly small, with a full roster of only 11 players.

“The team is super small and honestly I like it so much because everyone’s super, super close,” Carranza said. “We all know pretty much all about our personal lives and really feel comfortable going to anyone asking advice [or] questions about classes or just relationship advice.”

One of Carranza’s teammates, Eliana Channell (first year), said she is inspired by Carranza’s dedication and passion every single day.

“Ari is very intense and driven because she is just so motivated,” Channell said. “She is just hungry for the win, she wants to win and you can just tell when she’s playing. She’s definitely someone I look up to on the court.”

According to Channell, one of Carranza’s skills is her killer serve: whenever Carranza goes to the back to serve, the rest of the team feels confident that she can ace anyone off the court. But Channell said that the most important thing Carranza brings to the court is her overflowing love for her teammates.

“She not only is one of the most influential players like on the court, but I think off the court she’s someone we all love and want to support,” Channell said. “I know she is going to be successful on and off the court and she is going to do great things for the world with that big heart of hers.”

Carranza said she loves to see her friends succeed and appreciates all the support the team received at their games throughout the season.

“You have to be there to support everybody on your team,” Carranza said. “I’ll have fun supporting my team and cheering them up. I feel like at the end of the day, it’s not about skill. It’s just about family and support and just having fun.”

Amir Barkan (sophomore), a member of the Occidental men’s cross country and track and field team, smiles on a bench in the Academic Quad at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 1, 2022. Angela Guglielmino/The Occidental

Amir Barkan

Amir Barkan (sophomore) is a runner for Occidental’s men’s cross country and track and field teams, and he was recently awarded first-team all SCIAC. Barkan said he learned a lot this season and he is looking to push himself further and improve his times in the future.

“It has been a really good season for me,” Barkan said. “I have improved a lot from cross country last year so that has been very satisfying. It has been a solid season, but there is still a lot to learn.”

Barkan said his improvement can be credited to consistency and a dedication to taking care of himself, which can be difficult in college with all of the academic and social pressures alongside athletics.

“In the college environment, you really have to take care of your body, because running is the biggest strain you can put on your body,” Barkan said. “Also, I feel like some workouts this year have really challenged me mentally. I am focusing on staying calm and staying positive.”

Barkan’s teammate, Luke Seeley (first year), said while the workouts have been extremely challenging, the team always looks to Barkan as a leader to lighten the mood.

“Whenever we’d have like a big workout and everybody is in their head about it, to lighten the mood, Amir always starts the workout in some random way,” Seeley said. “So sometimes he’ll pick up a stick and throw it and when it hits the ground we start. Or sometimes he’ll tell us that he’s going to count us down and he’ll say three, go and just immediately start. Just like little stuff like that, you know, keeps the environment light and just fun to be around.”

Barkan said he puts a lot of effort into the mental side of cross country and wants to share his positive attitude with the rest of his team.

“I think running is like 50 percent mental and 50 percent physical,” Barkan said. “So much of running is what you think about it. The confidence is just as important as how fit you are. It has taken me a while, but I feel like I’m starting to kind of learn how to just trust my fitness and trust the process.”

Seeley said while Barkan may be more soft spoken, he is always in a position of leadership on the team.

“I would say Amir is just a really committed athlete,” Seeley said. “He’s easily the best runner on the men’s side, but it doesn’t feel like there’s any sort of ego to that he’s very much grounded in being a part of the team, which feels really special. I think just his presence is a really good model, a good representation for what the team should be.”