Athletes of the Week Nolan Upchurch and Ainsley Shelsta recount great plays and excellent performances

Nolan Upchurch
Baseball player Nolan Upchurch (senior) at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Feb. 1, 2023. Ella Birchard/The Occidental

Nolan Upchurch

Nolan Upchurch (senior) hit a grand slam in the Biola at Occidental baseball game Jan. 28th, scoring two runs and driving in four. A shortstop for Occidental College’s men’s baseball team, Upchurch said he fell in love with baseball the first time he played.

“I started playing baseball when I was young,” Upchurch said. “My dad played when he was younger, and he taught me how to play.”

Upchurch said his favorite part of being on the team at Occidental is the camaraderie he feels from the team.

“I love all my teammates, they’re all great guys and it’s just so much fun to be around them,” Upchurch said.

Upchurch said he believes the solidarity between himself and his teammates helps them play better, echoed by last season’s nine-win streak. Upchurch said the whole team is close to their coach, Luke Wetmore, who has been coaching for 12 years and has been at Occidental for 15.

Wetmore, head coach of the Occidental men’s baseball team, said Upchurch is a valued member of the team.

“Nolan’s great, he’s grown a lot in his four years here,” Wetmore said. “He started as a freshman, he’s a great defender, he’s progressed a lot on the offensive side, and he really knows the game of baseball.”

According to Wetmore, Upchurch is a very valuable player for the team, and one he trusts to make the right plays during his games.

“He works hard, just like the rest of the guys, he gets early work, he stays late,” Wetmore said. “It takes a certain type of athlete to be a four-year starter and stick with the ups and downs of baseball.”

Wetmore said the team will miss Upchurch when he graduates in May of this year.

“It’s going to be hard to replace the type of player that he is,” Wetmore said. “He’s our shortstop, whether he has a C on his chest or not, that position is really someone we rely on to lead on the field.”

Ainsley Shelsta

Ainsley Shelsta
Basketball player Ainsley Shelsta (first year) at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Feb. 2, 2023. Ella Birchard/The Occidental

Ainsley Shelsta (first year) has scored 99 points in conference games and 151 in total this season, with the highest shooting percentage on the college’s women’s basketball team as of Feb. at 54.5 percent.

“I played basketball since fourth grade back home, so I’ve played for a long time,” Shelsta said. “One day out of the blue, Coach Heat, who is the head women’s coach, just sent me an email.”

According to Shelsta, she and Coach Anahit Aladzhanyan, or Coach Heat as her players call her, talked over the phone about Shelsta’s recruitment onto the college’s women’s basketball team.

“My favorite part of being on the team is just the family aspect,” Shelsta said. “Playing basketball is great, but it’s really the people on the team…I love all of them with my whole heart.”

Occidental’s women’s basketball has won four conference games so far this season, defeating Cal Lutheran, Caltech and Whittier in a show of teamwork that Shelsta attributes their success to.

“We’re all super close, we’re great friends. I know if they’re having a bad day, I need to pick them up on the court,” Shelsta said.

According to Aladzhanyan, Shelsta is a good player to coach.

“She’s focused, hardworking and has a great sense of humor,” Aladzhanyan said. “Overall, she has a good balance between taking things seriously and also having a good time.”

This is Shelsta’s first season with Occidental, and Aladzhanyan said she is doing very well for being a brand-new player.

“She’s played in 18 games so far where she has been shooting over 50 percent from the floor and grabbing over six rebounds a game,” Aladzhanyan said. “She has steadily improved throughout the season, and it is exciting to see what the future holds for her and our team.”


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