Coaches, players face the difficult process of roster finalization

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Basketball at Rush Gymnasium at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA Oct. 8, 2021. Jasmine Reyes/TheOccidental

The Occidental women’s soccer team recruited Paige Villanueva (first year) this year, but she was cut from the team earlier this semester.

“I knew I had to show up and be my best at tryouts,” Villanueva said. “But I did and I thought [that] would be good enough.”

Villanueva said being recruited to play at Occidental was a huge part of the reason she came to the school and she thought about transferring to play elsewhere, but ultimately stayed because of her relationships at at the college.

At NCAA Division III schools like Occidental, some athletes are recruited, while others walk on, participating in a tryout process to make the team. Some programs — like baseball and basketball — give out roster spot guarantees to recruited players, leaving other players to compete for the remaining spots, while some teams make no cuts at all.

As play resumes this year, two classes of incoming recruits and less time face-to-face with players due to remote learning have made making cuts even more challenging, according to Occidental baseball head coach Luke Wetmore.

According to Wetmore, the baseball team had 14 returning players from before the COVID-19 pandemic began, with only seven having played an entire game at the college — meaning the coaching staff has never seen most of the team play. Wetmore said this makes it difficult to understand players’ talent levels, where they might fit into the program and who to award roster spots to.

“They’re great kids, they’ve worked hard, they’ve done everything they need to do. But I don’t know what they are going to be as college baseball players,” Wetmore said.

Wetmore said he gives some recruits a one-year roster guarantee to compete with other programs for top prospects, but all other players — recruited or not — have to fight for a place on the roster.

“We’re going up against peer institutions that are supporting students through admissions and guaranteeing roster spots,” Wetmore said. “How do you tell a kid that is guaranteed a roster spot at Claremont that you don’t have one at Oxy?”

According to Brian Newhall, head coach of men’s basketball, the basketball program operates in a similar fashion to baseball, promising the majority of incoming first- and second-year players a one-year roster spot. Newhall said he uses this method because it helps motivate players to work hard.

“I would never want to offer a four-year roster spot. This would allow players to choose to get out of shape, not touch a basketball in the offseason, not improve their weaknesses and then come back and have a guarantee to be on the team on October 15,” Newhall said via email.

Occidental’s men’s basketball team practicing at Rush Gymnasium at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA Oct. 8, 2021. Jasmine Reyes/TheOccidental

According to Newhall, the team normally carries 16 to 20 players, but this year that number has ballooned to 28 to 32 players, and only five players are able to be on the court at one time.

Instead of cutting players, Newhall said he uses a ranking system with all players to determine if they will be playing minutes with the varsity team, or the lower-level developmental team. The program hosts tryouts and then coaches meet with players to let them know where they stand in the rankings, but many players who don’t make the varsity rotation choose to stop playing, according to Newhall.

“Lots of players choose not to play and are always welcome to come back and try out,” Newhall said.

Due to roster constraints, Wetmore said he advises his players to make sure they love Occidental apart from baseball, and to know that if baseball goes away that they are going to be comfortable and happy here.

“It really matters,” Wetmore said. “Because we don’t want people to leave if baseball is no longer on the table.”

Hallway in Occidental’s Department of Athletics at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA Oct. 8, 2021. Jasmine Reyes/TheOccidental

Head men’s soccer coach Rod Lafaurie said he had to cut more players this season because five fifth-year seniors returned to play an extra year or college soccer after missing two seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lafaurie said he doesn’t like to cut recruited players, but that he expects everyone to continue to improve whether they are an incoming or a returning player.

Women’s soccer head coach Colm McFeely said he had to cut nine players earlier this season. According to McFeely, the coaching staff offers prospective athletes an opportunity to join the team for pre-season training where they will be evaluated and a decision will be made to offer them a roster spot or not. McFeely said he loves to see cut players come back and continue to work to make the team.

“Internal drive and commitment can take you a long way – find a way to improve, find somewhere to play, become a student of the game and give it another go,” McFeely said via email.

Ian Becker (sophomore), a recruit for men’s soccer, was cut at the end of August. Becker was with the team for a year of remote learning and preseason this fall before he was cut.

Becker said that during his recruiting process, Lafaurie clearly communicated that even recruited players do not have a guaranteed spot on the team.

“It [getting cut] took away a lot of what my immediate future plans were, but eventually I told myself I could take this opportunity to do other things that I wouldn’t normally do,” Becker said.

Becker said that includes taking harder classes, doing research at the college and being a part of Occidental’s orchestra. Getting cut has not changed his love for the sport, Becker said, as he still attends the team’s home games and talks soccer with his quad mates who are all on the team.

According to Villanueva, her coaches told her she was cut because she wasn’t aggressive enough. Villanueva said she wishes the coaches were more vocal about their goals throughout the tryout process so she could have worked on that specifically.

Patrick Liang (junior), a baseball walk-on, was cut in Fall 2019 during his first year at Occidental.

“At first I had some initial awkwardness and insecurity wondering if I would continue to be friends with the the baseball team since I was no longer going to be working with them,” Liang said via email. “But the next day, things with my friends were still the same. I think the fact that I maintained the relationships made it easier to come to terms with being cut.”