LOS ANGELES — It didn't take long for Occidental College women's lacrosse to go from being the "new" team to a "contending" team.
In just the program's third year, Oxy finished 13-4 overall, made its first NCAA Division III postseason appearance and advanced to the SCIAC Championship game for the first time.
At one point the Tigers won 10 games in a row, a stretch spanning nearly two months.
It's a quick rise to prominence that head coach Michele Uhlfelder attributes to her team's efforts to instill a championship culture from Day 1.
"Our players and staff have tremendous passion for the game and this early rise is a tribute to the work ethic and investment of our team, plus individual and collective improvement," Uhlfelder said.
Their impressive 2012 season garnered notice from the East Coast, where the sport is most popular, and laxpower.com ranked them one of the seven most improved teams in all of Division III.
"It's important to look beyond history, reputation, numbers and zip code. They have no bearing on how good you can be in lacrosse," Occidental coach Michele Uhlfelder said. "Our job is to control what we can control. By doing so this year, we were in a position to create parity in our league and get the Occidental name in front of the NCAA committee."
Oxy fell to Redlands 10-7 in the SCIAC championship game, but still earned an at-large bid to the 31-team postseason tournament. Again they faced Redlands, this time coming up just one goal short in a 15-14 loss that went down to the wire.
The individual accolades followed the team's success.
Tori Larson (Denver) became the first Occidental women's lacrosse player to be named IWLCA All-West Region when she was recognized on the First Team on May 18, and Larson and five others were named to the All-SCIAC squads.
Larson, fellow attacker Sarah Kessler (Portland, Ore.) and defender Charlotte Bromley (Watertown, Conn.) made the first team. Attacker Lauren Wemple (Needham, Mass.), midfielder Rebecca Belding (Burlingame) and defender Kristin Feinberg (Haverford, Penn.) made the second team.
Maybe the most intriguing part of the Tigers surge into contention is that they don't lose anyone. Of the 19 players on Oxy's 2012 roster, five were juniors and the rest underclassmen.
With the returning talent and drastic improvement, will come higher expectations though. Uhlfelder insists the team isn't satisfied and will look to improve on their milestone year.
"Building a tradition of excellence will be under construction for a while so it's important that we put our hard hats on and go to work," Uhlfelder said. "We will look to take on a tougher schedule as several more strong East Coast programs plan to come west, including many NCAA tournament teams. Our conference has put itself on the map and we want to do our very best to represent West and the strength of our region."