Westmont is on a mission to upgrade athletics

As he watched the women’s soccer team play the first official game on the school’s new soccer field, Dave Odell couldn’t help but feel proud that he is the athletic director at Westmont College at this time.

In only 18 months on the job, Odell has seen the college’s athletic facilities undergo a major transformation.

Thorrington Field is the beautiful new home for the Warrior soccer teams. The field is of international width and length, and it’s manicured grass from end to end. The venue, surrounded by a new all-weather track, has terraced seating and a fancy score and message board.

Behind the terraced seating sits venerable Russ Carr Field, which doubled as a soccer pitch and baseball diamond for many years. Today, it is a pristine baseball-only facility that has drawn rave reviews from major-league scouts, pro and college players and coaches.

“It’s just a blessing to the college, to the athletes and to the community,” said Odell of the new and improved athletic facilities.

The Westmont men will play their first official game at Thorrington Field on Friday when they host their annual Heritage Classic. The Warriors play La Verne at 4 p.m.

The next item on Odell’s to-do list for Westmont athletics is raising money for more scholarships.

In the 80s and 90s, Westmont teams regularly would finish in the upper echelon in the Golden State Athletic Conference, make the playoffs and often advance to the NAIA National Tournament. Odell himself played on GSAC championship basketball teams and went to the nationals when he attended Westmont in the mid-80s.

In the 2000s, sports that used to dominate, like men’s and women’s soccer and basketball, have slipped into the middle of the pack in the GSAC.

Odell pointed to two areas that’s contributed to the slide: tougher academic standards at the school and money.

The school was recently ranked by U.S. News and World Reports as one of the top 100 liberal arts schools in the country.

“Westmont has become harder and harder to get in to,” Odell said. “There is a limit on students at 1200 and the caliber of student it takes to come here and be successful is a lot higher than before. Not everybody can come that’s a good player. They have to be a great student as well. Academics has really raised up.”

On the money issue, he said, “Our competition has invested in athletics to bring new students to their campus. We used to be somewhat in the middle of the pack in terms of scholarships. We’re at the very bottom of the pack, currently.”

He noted that the school gives about 40 percent of its scholarship limit to athletics while GSAC members like Azusa Pacific, Biola and Cal Baptist are giving up to 80 percent.

“We’re trying to raise additional money for athletic scholarships and we’ve been successful at that. This year, all sports teams will have one more scholarship than they’ve had in previous years.”

The small increase has already paid off. Last year, the men’s cross country won the GSAC championship.

“We have to raise athletic scholarships in order for us to be competitive with other schools. That will even the gap money-wise, and we’ll do our job (as an athletic department) and go out and find the right athletes and put together the right teams.

“Where we’re at is not acceptable,” he added. “We want to go above and beyond where we’ve been.”