Occidental’s lacrosse team started their season by getting shut out on the road Feb. 22 by Pomona-Pitzer — but this did not deter the Tigers from returning just a few days later and defeating the University of Redlands 23-9 at Jack Kemp Field in their home opener. The Tigers were led by Ava Whelan (first year) as she scored 5 goals, garnered 1 assist and won 5 draw controls. From Rosemount, MN, Whelan has played midfield since high school, where she said she played in a tough league.
Whelan said that she was a little nervous but excited to go play. She believes her lack of nerves and readiness to play stems from the seniors.
“All our seniors and upperclassmen are the most welcoming and encouraging people,” Whelan said. “They’re always there to cheer you on, whether on or off the field. They all play strong leadership roles on our team.”
Whelan admitted collegiate lacrosse is a step up in competition but felt ready to perform because of the team’s practices.
“The girls are definitely bigger and faster than they were in high school, and the overall speed of the game and stick work is a level up,” Whelan said. “But I really think what we’ve been doing in practice has prepared our freshman for the speed of the game.”
Not even seven minutes into the game, Whelan found the back of the net as she scored to push the Tiger lead to 3-1.
“It was actually my first official college goal, and it felt awesome,” Whelan said. “It was also awesome that it was assisted by my freshman teammate and friend Mayve Moylan.”
Whelan went on to score 2 more goals in the first quarter, another in the second and, to cap off her home debut, a free position shot to push the game out of reach. Her biggest takeaway from her first week of games was how the Tigers rebounded.
“I’m proud of how we bounced back. We came out ready to go against Redlands. In the days in between, we definitely worked on our communication overall as a team. We really kind of ironed out the things that were wrong against Pomona,” Whelan said. “The score didn’t reflect how hard we played. It was just the little things that didn’t go our way and we fixed them throughout the week.”
In preparation for the team’s Division III schedule, Occidental Women’s water polo travelled to Indiana and, most recently, Thousand Oaks, CA to face Division I opponents. In tough tournament matches against Toronto University, California Baptist University, Fresno Pacific University and Ottowa University in Thousand Oaks, the Tigers could not come out with any wins, but that isn’t to say they didn’t improve as a team — sophomore goalie Alexandra Moye shined for Occidental, making 19 saves through the four tournament games Feb. 24-25.
Being the only Division III team at their early season tournaments, the Tigers struggled, but when asked if the games were preparing them for the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC), Moye said they were.
“Oh, absolutely, especially because Pomona-Pitzer just beat Indiana, the No. 11 Division I team in the country,” Moye said. “We need to be prepared to go up against teams like that and play well and feel strong about our performances.”
While the team didn’t win any games, Moye said she reflected on her individual improvement.
“I think what has been really important for me is focusing on what you can do [as] opposed to what you can’t, because sometimes as the goalie I can’t control if the ball comes to our side of the pool,” Moye said. “And so I just have to do what I can to make the save and continue to support my teammates.”
Moye said she credits much of her success to her team and coaching staff.
“We have a really good team dynamic. Our team pillars are competitiveness, joy, compassion and integrity,” Moye said. “I also think Jack [Stabenfeldt], our coach, does a good job of saying ‘here’s what we need to focus on [in the] next game. We’re moving on. Let’s look to the future.'”
Moye’s success and play does not go unnoticed amongst her teammates. Schuyler Simon-Thomas (first year) is very appreciative of what her goalie does for the team.
“She is always the most supportive in the pool. She really runs the whole game. She just knows what to do. She’s awesome,” Simon-Thomas said.
Simon-Thomas said the recent rough patch was a time where Moye displayed her leadership qualities.
“It’s been hard for her but it has inspired her to improve not just her own performance, but the whole team’s,” Simon-Thomas said. “She knows what we have to do better and she’s good at communicating it.”
For Occidental, the future contains more difficult matchups against opponents in higher divisions and top Division III competition. Moye said she is confident in her ability to compete at this level not only because of her work in the pool, but her time spent out of it.
“I’m a biochemistry major and an art history minor. I did theater throughout high school as well. It’s super important to me [to have] a diverse way of using my brain,” Moye said. “It has changed the way I approach water polo in terms of thinking about both as an art form and athletic endeavor. You have to recognize patterns.”
Having only played one home game as of Feb. 25, Moye said she is looking forward to getting back to the De Mandel Aquatics center.
“Every pool is different. I’m comfortable with our pool which is important because you have to memorize where the cage is behind you,” Moye said. “When you’re in your home pool, you know your landmarks and feel much more comfortable.”
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