Welcome to the Athletics Hall of Fame

By Dick Anderson Photo by Marc Campos

Record-setting champions in swimming and track, a pair of dominant hoops teams, and a triple threat in basketball, softball, and volleyball earn their stripes

After a four-year hiatus, Occidental inducted four new members—three individual icons and a tandem of basketball titans—into the Athletics Hall of Fame on October 22 as part of Homecoming and Family Weekend.

Addressing the Sunday-morning gathering in Cannon Plaza, Director of Athletics Shanda Ness said, “I’m sure you all realize that we’re standing on the old Taylor Pool. Needless to say, athletics has changed a bit at Oxy since you were here. But one thing that never changes is the lifelong friendships and amazing memories that stick with you.”

Occidental Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Nadine Guest '70

A triple threat in basketball, softball, and volleyball, Nadine Felix Guest ’70 made her biggest impact as a point guard in basketball. As a senior, she led the Tigers by averaging 25 points a game while shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. The previous year her buzzer-beater gave Oxy the margin of victory over AIAW powerhouse Long Beach.

“Whether she was skying for a kill in volleyball or leaping up for a rebound in basketball, this young woman could elevate,” said three-sport teammate Judy Bjorndal ’70, who introduced Guest at the ceremony. “More than that, she was a wonderful teammate and leader. She made us all better.”

Unlike many of its competitors in the pre-Title IX era, Bjorndal said, Occidental’s women’s teams “actually drew a crowd when we played. And part of that was because we were winning all the time. But the other part, I think, was Nadine. People came to see her because she was such a joy to watch, and she was a joy to play with as well.”

“It’s Thanksgiving for me,” said Guest, who acknowledged the administration and staff “who took a personal attention to me and helped me to grow.”

Playing for Coach Ruth Berkey—who encouraged her to consider a major in physical education—Guest said she “fell in love” with the subject, and even though she didn’t stay in physical education for her entire career, “It gave me a great head start.”

In addition to her athletics accolades, Guest was elected Homecoming Queen her senior year. “Do you think that when Nadine came here from Stockton she was expecting to become Homecoming Queen?” Bjorndal asked. “I don’t think so. It’s a reflection of her personality, how people felt about her, how she reflected the ideals of Occidental.”

Occidental Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Walt Rohlfing '66

As a senior, Walt Rohlfing ’66 won the 200 freestyle at the National NAIA Swimming & Diving Championships in March 1966, setting an NAIA record (1:50.7), and finished second in the 100 freestyle.

When Coach Roy Dennis ’33 went on sabbatical in 1963, he asked former Oxy swimming standout Burt Kanner ’61 to step in as swimming coach. “On that first day at the pool, I saw Walt Rohlfing and I thought, ‘I’ve got something here,’” Kanner recalled.

Oxy won four straight SCIAC championships in swimming during the Rohlfing era. At a time when freshmen were ineligible to compete at varsity level, Rohlfing dominated his competition. “In 1963, if Walt had been swimming varsity, he would have won the 200 free by about five seconds,” Kanner said.

Rohlfing, who grew up in Fresno and majored in biology at Oxy, cites the History of Civilization program as sparking his interest in the College. Later in life, he said, “I traveled in an RV for 20 years around the country and I got to see a lot of my old colleagues from Oxy. Everyone wishes they had studied harder in History of Civ.”

In his remarks, Rohlfing cited Biology Professor John Stevens as making the biggest impact on him academically. Prior to the launch of the Vantuna, the Biology Department’s research vessel, “We shlepped the [oxygen] tanks down the cliffs, down to the ocean, and back up each weekend that we went diving. And we loved it.”

The 1974-75 Occidental men's basketball team.

The 1974-75 and 1975-76 men’s basketball teams went 40-15 over those two seasons, finishing 10-2 in conference play each season and winning back-to-back SCIAC championships for the first time in 20 years. Led by John Zorotovich ’75 (averaging 20.6 points per game) and Kraig King ’77 (14.8 ppg), the 1974-75 squad finished 19-8 and advanced to the NAIA District III Championship. Anchored by First Team All-Conference players Steve Snodgress ’78 (17.3 ppg) and King (14.4 ppg), the 1975-76 squad went 21-7 and earned a second straight berth in the NAIA District III Tournament.

Professor of Sociology and Law Emeritus Mike McAleenan, who introduced the teams, recalled spending those two seasons “pretty well enraptured by the way that group played basketball.” The 1975-76 squad notched a “remarkable” 52.6 percent shooting average for the season.

The key to the Tigers’ turnaround was Head Coach Bill Westphal, who arrived in 1973. “He had rigorous practices and demanded extreme precision in the execution of very complex offensive and defensive schemes,” McAleenan said. On the court, the players “were a fiercely competitive bunch, but their approach to the game was characterized by decisions resulting from a high basketball IQ and learning to play the right way.” 

“To be inducted into the Hall of Fame as a team is a wow moment and very cool,” said Dave Trotter ’77, who played forward for the Tigers. “But we wouldn’t be here without Coach Brian Newhall ’83. This wasn’t on anyone’s radar until Brian made it happen.”

During Westphal’s first season at Oxy, “We were 9-17, just trying to figure things out,” Trotter said. But the following season, after learning what he called Westphal’s “intricate—one might even say sadistic—offensive and defensive schemes,” the Tigers  surged to their first outright SCIAC title in 11 years, winning by an average of 20.3 points.

“Fifty years ago, this group of people walked on a court together, basically into Oxy together, and we bonded,” said Rich Roche ’77, the teams’ 6'8" center. Acknowledging his teammates, he added, “This isn’t the biggest or most athletic group you’ve ever seen. But Bill Westphal was able to convince us that we were mean, and tough, and big and strong—everything that we weren’t.”

“It was an honor to be your coach,” said Westphal, whose 42-year career in basketball included stints in high school, college, and the NBA. Nine of those years were at Oxy, “and probably my strongest memory today is of this group. Congratulations on making it to the hall.”

Occidental Athletics Hall of Fame inductee Cresey Stewart Maher '87.

A two-sport All-American (in track and field and cross country), Cresey Stewart Maher ’87 set a national record in the 1500-meter run at the 1987 Division III Track and Field Championships in Naperville, Ill., with a time of 4:27.11. A mathematics major at Occidental, Maher graduated cum laude with a 3.9 GPA and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Pi Mu Epsilon, and Mortar Board.

Maher turned down a full-ride scholarship from a Division I school to enroll at Occidental, she said, thanks in large part to the efforts of Bill Harvey ’67, Oxy’s track and cross country coach from 1979 to 1999, who persistently called her northern Washington home until she finally committed to Oxy.

But her college career was interrupted by both injury and financial hardship. “At the end of my sophomore year I was wearing a back brace and I had a broken foot, and I was out of money,” she recalled. After having foot surgery, she started her junior year in a boot at Cal State Long Beach, and by the spring semester she began to run again.

The Division I experience, she found, was “really not what it’s cracked up to be, at least for me.” So Maher returned to Oxy as a senior, where she “took more than a full load” academically while running her way into the record books. “It was tough but it was worth it. I’m glad I did it.”

Prior to her record-setting run in the 1500—two seconds better than the old mark and five seconds better than her previous best—Maher recalled, “I was thinking about the 800 because I thought for sure that’s what I’d be running at nationals. Coach Harvey scratched me out of that and put me in the 1500 and told us all we were running the 1500. [Teammate Michele Trimble ’89 finished third, capturing All-American honors.] I was a little surprised by it. He said it was a no-brainer, but I didn’t know.”

Maher’s record in the 1500 lasted for 16 years before it was broken, Harvey said in his induction remarks. At nationals, he recalled, a coach from St. Olaf College in Minnesota asked Harvey how he thought she was going to do in the 1500. His reply? “Well, the race is over—it’s just a question of how fast she has to run in order to win.”

Top photo: Hall of Fame inductees and presenters for the Class of 2023. Seated, l-r: Assistant Coach Mike Joseph, Greg Butler ’77, Cresey Stewart Maher ’87, Nadine Felix Guest ’70, Director of Athletics Shanda Ness, Jeff Czworniak ’78, and Kraig King ’77. Middle row: Walt Rohlfing ’66, Gary Le Cheminant ’77, Professor Emeritus Mike McAleenan, Assistant Coach Scott Larson ’71, Head Coach Bill Westphal, John Zorotovich, Rich Roche ’77, Steve Snodgress ’78, and Bob Corral ’76. Back row: Dave Trotter ’77, Bruce Metzger ’76, Tom Ratkovich ’77, and Coach Bill Harvey ’67.