The Occidental women’s soccer team beat Pomona-Pitzer 6–5 away from home in a penalty kick shootout following 110 scoreless minutes to claim their first Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) championship Nov. 3. The win brings the team to the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament, where they will face Trinity College Nov. 10 at 1:30 p.m. PST at Hardin-Simmons College in Abilene, Texas.
The team advanced to the SCIAC final following a 2–1 win against Cal Lutheran University Oct. 31.
“The win still feels surreal and it’s crazy to know we’ve just made history for the women’s soccer program,” captain Nicole Castro (senior) said. “We’re still taking it one game at a time as we move forward into the NCAA tournament.”
Several players, including center back Devoney Amberg (junior), are proud of this recent success.
“I think we played very well at the game, and played our game which is possession and keeping the ball,” Amberg said.
This win has been a culmination of efforts leading up to the final game, according to Castro.
“I’m really proud of my team and to be a part of it,” defender Kate Staude (first year) said. “The team is really welcoming — it was an easy adjustment.”
Staude said their strength as a team is communicating with one another, and that she feels inspired by the people around her. According to Staude, their weakness is applying what they talk about into practice.
“It’s taking constructive criticism and [learning to] apply it,” Staude said.
However, the team has also grown from their moments of weakness, according to Staude. The losses the team suffered early in the season demonstrated that they had to work harder, Staude said.
“The loss we had against Redlands — it taught us we can’t just sit on wins, we have to keep working,” Staude said.
According to goalkeeper Julia Thompson (first year), energy levels among the team were high prior to the finals game. The team, which had an overall record last year of 7–7–2, has improved this year, according to Thompson.
“The energy is really great now that we’ve advanced into finals,” Thompson said. “[The team has] a really good bond and work ethic.”
In terms of preparing for Saturday’s game, the team, including Thompson, were discussing strategy for securing the win. According to Amberg, the team wanted to stay compact defensively in the recent Saturday game.
“We know that [Pomona’s] field is really wide and they use that to their advantage,” Amberg said. “We just need to keep communicating so we can adjust to their playing style.”
According to Thompson, Pomona-Pitzer has a strong first touch and Occidental wanted to work to break down their defense more throughout the game.
“Our strategy [was] to shut down their outside attacks and looking for quick combinations to create space for our forwards to get through,” Castro said. “Those things, as well as defending and pressing as a team, will be huge in finding success against Pomona.”
In terms of overall season strategy, many players, including Amberg, stress the importance of communication. According to Thompson, the team is doing well getting the ball up the field, but has to finish.
“We’ve had some trouble with finishing and getting the ball in the net in the final third,” Thompson said.
The team has good possession and passing habits but was working to solidify those efforts, according to Castro.
“Sometimes it’s one too many touches or passes in the final third, and we get stuck trying to find those scoring opportunities,” Castro said.
According to Amberg, the team’s record has shifted for the better as a result of a change in their culture and attitude.
“I think that we really stepped it up [this] season, and I felt the chemistry this year change,” Amberg said.
Amberg said their strength is possession, and they do well at passing the ball around other teams. According to Amberg, the scoring has improved because the team has been scoring early on in the games.
According to Staude, the team has weekly “Tiger Talks,” which help them grow together. They discuss what’s occurring on the team, as well as pay attention to their chosen values of integrity, selflessness, growth mindset and pride. Staude said it helps them become better people and players on the field.
“It’s a group of mentors, mentees, and everyone gets to learn from each other,” Staude said.
According to Amberg and other players, everyone on the team is close and wants to win for each other. Thompson said that not only is the team supportive, but they are academically focused and very understanding of each other’s schedules.
“We always have each other’s back if we ever need anything,” Thompson said.