Mental strength sets Skye Garcia and Cole Ivie apart as The Occidental’s Athletes of the Week

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Cole Ivie (junior), this week’s Athlete of the Week, is a member of the water polo team at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Sept. 17, 2021. Theodore Tang/The Occidental

Skye Garcia

Skye Garcia (sophomore), this week’s Athlete of the Week, is a member of the volleyball team at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Sept. 17, 2021. Theodore Tang/The Occidental

Outside hitter Skye Garcia (sophomore) was named to the Spike It Up Classic all-tournament team when the Occidental women’s volleyball team traveled to Colorado this past weekend. The Tigers won three out of four games in the tournament, beating Belhaven University, Howard Payne University and Moravian University. Garcia recorded 11, 13 and 15 kills in those matches respectively. Occidental also competed against Colorado College in the tournament, the No. 4 ranked Division III team in the country. Garcia’s eight kills and four aces were not quite enough as the Tigers fell in three sets.

Garcia has the third highest kills per set in the SCIAC at 3.33. She said that staying aggressive is key to her success as a hitter — she never holds back on shots.

“I do my job to put it away,” Garcia said. “It’s just expected of me.”

Garcia said that her team encourages her to keep that attacking mentality. According to teammate Bethany Heitland (senior), Garcia can be counted on to step up when her team needs her the most.

“We can trust her to be aggressive and make the smart play when the game is on the line,” Heitland said.

According to Garcia, maintaining that aggressive mindset is essential, as well as having a short memory when she makes mistakes.

“It took me actually working on not getting in my head — letting things brush off of you after you miss a serve, shank a ball, hit a ball out or something, because you’re your [own] biggest critic,” Garcia said.

Though she started playing at 10 years old, Garcia said the sport was not serious for her until sophomore year of high school when she started taking private lessons and joined a new club.

“College [volleyball] was kind of a pipe dream for me,” Garcia said. “I was like, ‘It’s not gonna happen. I’m short for a hitter, I’m not that good.'”

However, according to Garcia, her mindset shifted after joining the high-level club where most of the players were planning to play in college.

“It really pushed me,” Garcia said. “I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to play college.’”

There were still bumps in the path and room for development, however, according to Garcia. After a back injury during her junior year in high school, she had to become even more focused.

“Now every swing [had] to count because every swing hurt my back more,” Garcia said.

Garcia carried this mentality throughout the recent tournament. According to Garcia, the critical moment for her team was in the win against Howard Payne University. Occidental took the first two sets with relative ease, but fatigue set in and they dropped the next two. In the decisive final set, Garcia said she and her teammates were able to pull out the victory.

“We wanted that match so bad,” Garcia said “I think that’s why we got it. We just wanted the ball that much more than them.”

Cole Ivie

Cole Ivie (junior), this week’s Athlete of the Week, is a member of the water polo team at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Sept. 17, 2021. Theodore Tang/The Occidental

Goalkeeper Cole Ivie (junior) made 12 and 11 saves respectively for the Occidental men’s water polo team in victories over Fresno Pacific University and Concordia University this past weekend. Despite his standout individual performances, Ivie said that his focus is always on the team effort.

“I focus on guiding the other guys,” Ivie said. “I try to focus on what they’re doing so that we all have a collective understanding of what’s happening, and can prevent the ball from getting in the cage.”

According to Ivie, this external focus also helps him play better. When he’s focused on his teammates he’s not thinking too much about his own performance — something that he said can get in the way of him playing his best. Ivie said that before games, he tries not to think too much about the coming match.

“Lately I’ve been trying to do as little as possible — mentally,” Ivie said. “I try to not think about it because I get in my head.”

According to Ivie, water polo has not always come easy. He began playing in his first year of high school; a much later start than many players. Ivie said after the first two weeks in the pool he wanted to quit, but made himself keep playing.

“I kept going and I loved it,” Ivie said.

According to Ivie, being on the bench behind another goalkeeper throughout high school was motivation to work hard and improve.

“Having that guy ahead of me was driving me to be better,” Ivie said.

Despite few opportunities for playing time in high school, Ivie was able to secure a spot to play at Occidental. However, according to Ivie, his playing in college was not the product of a fixed goal — it came from an internal motivation to be the best player he could be.

“I always just wanted to be my best,” Ivie said. “That’s all I ever wanted.”

Ivie recorded five more saves in Occidental’s victory over Mt. San Antonio College Wednesday, Sept. 15. According to Ivie, his role as a facilitator is one of the most important parts of being a goalkeeper, setting up the defense and making sure everyone is in the right place to prevent a goal.

“I can’t get a lot of [saves] if all those guys in the water aren’t helping me get it,” Ivie said. “The only way the ball gets to me is when they’re funneling it to me and when they’re in their spot. They allow me to make the right save.”

Reflecting on the past year and a half, Ivie said that he’s grateful just to be playing water polo again.

“After COVID, I feel so lucky to be back in the water,” Ivie said. “I’m going to make every moment of that count.”