Dual victories prepare women’s soccer to defend conference title

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Grace Hildner (sophomore), left, tries to get ahead of Chiara Serafini (first year) during practice with her team on the soccer fields at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. Jasmine Mack/The Occidental

The Occidental women’s soccer team won two consecutive games on Sept. 7 and 8 against the University of St. Katherine (6–0) and Whitworth University (1–0), improving their record to 3–0 in their preseason series. With conference games approaching, the Tigers are stepping into this season defending the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC) championship title they won last November. They were the first women’s soccer team in Occidental history to win a SCIAC championship.

The Sept. 7 game against Whitworth went into double overtime, with Dylan Wensley (junior) scoring the golden goal to secure the win. Captain Berkli Maningo (senior) and head coach Colm McFeely said how a long, hot and trying game was important to have early on.

“The game on Sunday against Whitworth was probably a game that’s going to represent a bit more of what our conference is going to look like,” McFeely said.

According to Maningo, having won the SCIAC championship last year changes the team’s goals to motivate them this season.

“We had to work every second. It was awesome to not just fight for the tie but to fight for the win,” Maningo said. “We use last year’s championship to motivate, but not to sit on.”

With the regular season commencing Sept. 18 against University of Redlands, the women’s team will play 12 conference games through early November. Both Maningo and McFeely stressed how quickly the season passes by and emphasized the importance of every single game.

“It raises the standards from the beginning. Now we are defending the championship so that means that every game we go into, we are the current champion,” Maningo said. “We have to show up in a bigger way.”

The 2019 SCIAC preseason soccer ranking predicts the women’s team to finish third. According to Maningo, five teams are often competing to make the finals at the end of each season. This requires the team to think game by game and not too far into the future.

“The ranking is flattering and very cool, but the conference is so tight. It doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things,” Maningo said.

McFeely hopes the championship title does not change the attitude and approach to the season.

“The main thing we want to try and do is remember some of the things that got us there, remember what it felt like, and the unique things about winning championships so we can do what we need to do to give ourselves the opportunity to compete at that level again,” McFeely said.

According to McFeely, a lot of preparation and goal setting happens in the summertime and during preseason games, which is beneficial for the team’s development. Unlike previous years, this preseason has a total of five games, where before they were lucky to get one or two.

“We have time to develop as a team in these early games,” Maningo said. “They allow us to deal with injuries, deal with changing our positions around and really gives us time to figure out our chemistry on the field.”

McFeely said the preseason games are crucial for allowing everyone on the team to get playing time.

“It gives newcomers and others that hadn’t had a huge amount of time last year an opportunity to go and show what they did in the summer to improve as a player,” McFeely said.

McFeely said that preseason training also allowed time for the team to bond outside of the field and for the leadership side to develop. The coaches gave the team full ownership in selecting captains, according to Alannah Leitner (first year).

“We voted for captains at the beginning when we got here,” Leitner said. “We were a part of choosing the captains even though we didn’t really know them, which made us [first years] feel really included.”

Leitner said that all of the captains lead by example and are supportive and approachable.

“I feel really honored to be captain because I really like my teammates, for them to express that trust in me, being a captain means a lot,” Maningo said.

Maningo said this year’s team dynamic is the most cohesive it has since she began playing at Occidental.

“We put a lot of emphasis on team chemistry, there are no grade divisions and within classes everyone gets along really well,” Maningo said.

McFeely said that the legacy of Occidental women’s soccer is much more than the minutes played on the field.

“Overall, I want them to have a tremendous experience,” McFeely said. “How we behave after a win or loss is important to understand who we are, our character and how we take it and how we go on,” McFeely said.