LOS ANGELES — It wasn't quite the big time, but it sure felt like it.
In front of more than 100 student journalists and photographers, the Occidental College women's lacrosse team rose to the occasion, beating Allegheny College 21-12 at Jack Kemp Stadium on Thursday for one of its biggest victories of the season with its largest 2012 crowd looking on.
Lauren Wemple (Needham, Mass.) dished out four assists for the Tigers, making it 13 in her last three games.
Oxy hasn't lost since dropping its season opener to undefeated Redlands on Feb. 13, the longest winning streak in the program's three-year history.
The Journalism Association of Community Colleges used the matchup between the Tigers and the Gators (4-3) as the stage for its sports writing and photography contest. Students from all over California watched the game, interviewed the key players and coaches in a post game press conference, then were given an hour to write their story as part of the association's weekend convention in Burbank. The winning story and photo will be determined this weekend.
With photographers lining the sidelines, and ambitious young reporters elbowing each other to get their story, the game took on the feel of an NCAA tournament game or mini Super Bowl, something a small, prestigious academic Division III institution isn't accustomed to.
"I thought they were really excited about the process," Occidental coach Michele Uhlfelder said of her team, adding that most of the players didn't know of the event that was kept quiet so the competing writers all had an even playing field. "I think they could envision what it would be like to play in an NCAA tournament game.
They were excited about the atmosphere and handled it very well."
Although the event was setup, it didn't feel that way.
"The environment was genuine and our kids took it seriously," Uhlfelder said. "I think they were flattered, played very well, and then were excited about sharing."
Belding and Kessler in particular. Both were standouts in the game, then were grilled with questions, along with Uhlfelder, in the Roy Dennis Trophy Room in front of 60+ student writers.
Belding talked about team chemistry.
"We're all really close on and off the field," Belding said. "When you have a good connection off the field I think that translates onto the field very well."
Reporters noticed Kessler's tenacious offensive approach that took more of a playmaking role on Thursday. The Tigers' goal leader's three assists were a season high.
"My mentality was just to go as hard as I could and maybe step into roles that I haven't played," Kessler said. "Tonight it was more about assists and seeing the field."
Uhlfelder focused on an unsung defensive unit that was nails again on Thursday night, igniting Oxy's offense.
"Our offense gets the glory because they score the goals, but I think our defense helped our offense get confidence and really set the tone," Uhlfelder said.
In particular, Charlotte Bromley (Watertown, Conn.), Oxy's season leader in ground balls (25) and caused turnovers (10), was steady in the back, helping Oxy gain possession, then transition to the attack smoothly.
"Charlotte is one of our leaders on defense and she does a very good job of clearing the ball and she's a good ball handler," Uhlfelder said. "She was put in key situations tonight and was stayed patient and disciplined."
Oxy doubled up the Gators by half, 12-6, and held at least a four-goal lead for the entire second half. At one point, Oxy was up 21-11 following a goal from Tori Larson (Denver, Colo.).
After playing just one of its first 10 games away from Jack Kemp Stadium, Oxy hits the road for a three-game SCIAC road trip starting at Whittier on April 7.