Oxy Athletics brings school spirit to Homecoming Weekend

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Occidental College’s Shea Grosz (junior) shoots the ball during the homecoming game against University of La Verne on Oct. 23, 2021 at the De Mandel Aquatics Center. Occidental won the game 17-6. Tobi Gassner/The Occidental

It was a busy weekend for Occidental Athletics Oct. 22–23 as the college welcomed parents back to campus for its first Homecoming & Family Weekend in two years. On Saturday, four different teams competed against conference opponents: men’s soccer, women’s soccer, men’s water polo and volleyball. Athletic Director Shanda Ness said the return of Occidental homecoming was exciting for all students, both athletes and non-athletes.

“This year was a little unique compared to most years because it’s been so long since we had played and been on campus and I really wanted to celebrate athletics in that regard,” Ness said. “It was exciting to have so many events kind of back to back to back. I think it created an exciting energy.”

Ness attended a few of the on-campus events, and said she enjoyed having the campus feel back to normal again, after the lapse in homecoming events due to the pandemic. Additionally, Ness said she was grateful for the opportunity to bring back Homecoming and the all-inclusive campus experience it provides.

“The little things, like SAAC had tables giving away T-shirts, seeing people in the stands have Oxy Athletics gear on, seeing the the orange in the crowd cheering for student athletes — that’s my favorite part,” Ness said.

Evan Karp (sophomore), a defender on the men’s soccer team, celebrated his first homecoming by scoring the game-winning goal against Chapman.

“Scoring it, it was awesome just because obviously it was late game,” Karp said. “To take the lead and with all the fans there and all the energies surrounding the game, it was just a great moment.”

According to Karp, the large homecoming crowds had a significant impact on the team’s performance.

“During the during the huddle, Scott [Drazan], who is a fifth-year senior, said, ‘This is the biggest crowd we’ve had, let’s go do it for them. Let’s go put on a show,'” Karp said. “So I think we all kind of knew going into it that it was gonna be loud and it was gonna be hectic and that’s what we wanted.”

Skye Garcia, a sophomore outside hitter on the volleyball team, said having a large crowd influenced the team’s playing ability in a positive way.

“How hype all the parents were that were in town, but also the students. That’s obviously, not even close, the biggest crowd we’ve had for any game and I feel like for the volleyball team, we feed off of the crowds’ energy so hard,” Garcia said.

Garcia also said she appreciated how enthusiastic Occidental parents were to not only attend their student’s games, but every game happening that Saturday across all sports.

“I remember seeing some of the parents at water polo that were there for their kids and they’re talking to us and I was like, ‘Oh, you guys are coming to volleyball, right?’ And they’re like, ‘Yeah, absolutely,'” Garcia said. “‘We have to go support. We’re coming to all the sports today.’ I just thought that was so cute.”

The Occidental College water polo team cheers on the team during the Tigers Homecoming game against University of La Verne on Oct. 23, 2021 at the De Mandel Aquatics Center. Occidental won 17-6. Photo courtesy of Marc Campos, Occidental College Photographer

Ness said some traditional events like clubs tabling on the Academic Quad and the Hall of Fame couldn’t take place due to health and safety restrictions, while other activities like the Spirit Car Parade — which awarded the grand prize of $500 to the women’s basketball team — were possible this year.

“The car parade came back after a hiatus,” Ness said. “So making that a really special event for everyone involved. You know, I saw some great energy from some student-athlete teams.”

In bringing homecoming weekend back to campus, Ness said her main priority was enhancing already existing homecoming events and continuing to grow athletics’ role in those events. According to Ness, that involved a collaboration with other offices on campus, including Student Leadership, Involvement and Community Engagement (SLICE), Office of Institutional Advancement and the Alumni Association.

“In helping to enhance those events — and seeing ways how we can help each other be successful if it’s an athletic event — how can others play a part in that if it’s not an athletic event? How can athletics help enhance that event?” Ness said.

Women’s soccer celebrated their senior night during the 4 p.m. game against Pomona-Pitzer, honoring ten seniors. Caroline Kearney (junior), a defender on the women’s soccer team said homecoming weekend this year was the liveliest she had seen campus since before the pandemic.

Kearney said homecoming is an Occidental tradition she will never forget, and will miss when she graduates.

“It was so fun running around campus with my parents, running into and meeting all my other teammates families and then going to our game knowing everyone was cheering us on in the stands,” Kearney said via email.