Team traditions sow success for Occidental athletes

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Ryan Kaneshiro is a basketball team captain at Occidental College, Los Angeles. Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. River Lisius/The Occidental.

Before local meets, Occidental cross country runners gather to make pasta together. After games, the Occidental womxn’s rugby team eats dinner with the team they just competed against. While Occidental is not regarded by most of its students as a school where sports dictate the culture, team traditions are an integral part of the athletic experience for many players.

According to cross country co-captain Thomas Robertson (senior), their team has an off-campus house referred to as ‘Cross House,’ in which upper-division members of the team live.

“In recent years, we have restarted a tradition of pre-meet pasta parties where we all eat a team dinner of pasta, salad and garlic bread cooked by team members before meets relatively close to Oxy,” Robertson said. “These traditions are the bedrock to who we are as student-athletes and as a team.”

According to Robertson, something that makes the cross country team unique is that they have a host of cheers the perform during their meets aside from the school chant “Io Triumphe.”

“This is not to say that we do not respect and appreciate teams and organizations that incorporate [Io Triumphe] into their tradition,” Robertson said. “We have our own pre-race chants and mantras, and we pride ourselves in their originality and symbolism.”

Although their team is sometimes perceived as an underdog within SCIAC, the West Region and Division III as a whole, Robertson said their perseverance translates into performances the team is proud of.

According to basketball co-captain Ryan Kaneshiro (senior), the team always does one or two outings for meals during season and has a house off-campus. According to Kaneshiro, school spirit is a significant contributor to the basketball team’s success.

“The last couple years, we’ve been successful and we’ve gotten support from students here,” Kaneshiro said. “I think back to last year’s playoff game against Pomona when a bunch of people traveled all the way to Pomona, which meant a lot to us. It’s always a lot of fun playing in front of a lot of your peers.”

According to rugby player Emily Zepeda (sophomore), the team has socials following their games, where they share a meal with the opposing team. Additionally, Zepeda said songs sung as a team make up an important part of their traditions, both on and off the field.

“Rugby songs are how we keep the spirit up and alive,” Zepeda said. “We have a Google Doc with 13 pages of songs and lyrics.”

According to Zepeda, the team has a big-little reveal for new players, who they pair up with more experienced players similar to the practice upheld by fraternities and sororities. The older players put together a slideshow of their baby photos to have the new players guess who their bigs are.

Zepeda said at the end of the year, the rugby team assigns superlatives to players and receives awards from their coaches.

“I received ‘Most likely to have their phone in a scrum,’” Zepeda said. “I was infamous for capturing photos and videos from people in action.”

According to water polo co-captain Monica Chernoff (senior), her team does fun activities at the beginning of the semester, such as hiking to the Hollywood sign or near Griffith Observatory. Chernoff said for senior day, the whole team gets involved to make the seniors feel special for their last home game at Occidental.

“All first years, sophomores, and juniors on the team decorate the pool with balloons, streamers and funny posters,” Chernoff said. “In the past, we have made videos, dances and synchronized swim routines for the seniors and perform them on Senior Day.”

According to Chernoff, the water polo team looks forward to these traditions because it brings them closer as a team and gives them a chance to bond outside practice and games.

“We also try to go to other Oxy sports games to support other Occidental athletes because it means so much when we see other Oxy students support us at games,” Chernoff said.

According to swim and dive co-captain Annika Moen (senior), the team does “secret swimmer,” a period during a four-day-long meet when swimmers on the team give each other gifts and notes. According to Moen, these treats can alleviate anxiety in high-pressure competition situations.

“One thing that stands out about the swim team is that I think we’re one of the only teams on campus that actually know the whole Io Triumphe cheer,” Moen said. “I know O-Team leaders know it and maybe some other teams might do it, but it’s really fun when we’re able to do the whole cheer at a practice or a meet.”

Moen said she has improved significantly since freshman year and is appreciative of the friends she has on the swim team and the community around her.

“I definitely wouldn’t be able to make it through the hard practices and the 5:30 a.m. wake-ups without the great people,” Moen said.