LOS ANGELES — Friday, the Oxy men's soccer team is ready to prove that they aren't who they were last year.
With 14 freshmen on the squad last fall, the Tigers compiled a 5-13 overall and 5-9 SCIAC record in what was termed a rebuilding year, a learning process.
But this year they want to go further than that: they're ready to compete. Friday's game against Whitman begins Head Coach Rod Lafaurie's third season in Eagle Rock, and senior captains Reid Sakamoto (Honolulu) and Ben Murray's (Sandpoint, ID) last chance at cracking a SCIAC playoff spot. Oxy's narrowly missed the postseason tournament in each of the last four years.
Murray, the All-SCIAC forward who led Oxy in points last year with 15 on 6 goals and 3 assists as the Tigers' primary striker, believes a new aura surrounds Lower Field.
"This program has never had much expected of it in the past," he said. "This year we've stepped into the mentality that we are a program that needs to get into the playoffs, and that we will step up. We expect that out of ourselves now, and that's how we're going to make the change."
Murray will share leadership responsibilities with three-time All-SCIAC performer Sakamoto, who is enthusiastic about the new direction his team is striving for.
"I think the flavor of this year is a lot different than in other years," Sakamoto said. "Old guys, new guys, everybody is on the same page that every game is an opportunity to make a statement. I'm really excited."
In a competitive league featuring No. 9 nationally-ranked Redlands and defending SCIAC tournament champion Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, Oxy hopes to capitalize on the maturity that well over half of the team gained with a first season under their belts.
"Getting a year older has helped everyone," Coach Lafaurie said. "We know now what to expect. Last year we had to depend on freshmen playing important roles, but this year we don't have to do that anymore.
"Our conference gets better every year. Getting to the playoffs is possible, definitely, but it just depends on how well we play together," he said.
The Tigers also return juniors All-SCIAC midfielder Marcus Brandford (Seattle) and Douglas Pentland (Corvallis, OR), who scored two game-winning goals last season. Pentland knows turning a program around takes time, but he believes his team is ready to get over the hump and into the postseason.
"This program has been through a lot," Pentland said. "We don't have a history of being a winning program, but we do have a team that's fed up with being looked down upon in this league. We're ready to work and start something new."
Mirin Fader is the Oxy men's basketball beat writer. She also writes feature stories on Oxy athletes, coaches and alums and spent her summer writing for the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks. A senior this year, Fader hopes to make a career out of sports journalism.
All of her work, including her archived Oxy stories can be found at her website: mirinfader.com