An already exciting start for Vassar men’s soccer hit a landmark on Friday, as head coach Andy Jennings earned his 200th career victory. The 2-0 win against Maritime College on August 29, 2014 sealed the deal for Jennings and continued the Brewers’ winning streak. This victory was one of four so far this season. The Vassar men bolstered their record with two shutout wins: one against Maritime College during the Vassar Invitational and another against Western Connecticut College. Also during the Invitational was their 3-1 besting of Elms and a remarkable 5-1 win over Farmingdale State College. These impressive matches have lead them to a 4-0-1 record after tying a strong Mount Saint Mary team. All four of their wins were achieved on their home turf: Gordon Field. The Brewers are lead by senior captains Justin Mitchell, Zach Zasipak and Tom Wiechert. As the only seniors, they have left room for many underclassmen to play big roles in the 2014 season. Sophomore Adam Warner is the goaltender, who is looking strong in the start of the season, already totaling nine saves. Tanner Sands and Hayden Van Brewer are both freshman starting defenders. Another young contributor is freshman offender Reid Smith, with an assist in both the Maritime and Connecticut wins. Jennings also has plenty of players on reserve, commenting that “We’ve got 6, 7, 8 players that can come off the bench and really contribute. It means that we can do a lot more substituting. The players who go in can work harder, run harder, give a little more physically, so we can stay fresh.”
The path to this mile marker has been long but eventful for Jennings, who knew he wanted to be involved with coaching athletics since he was twelve years old. “I loved the game and I loved analyzing the game,” Jennings resolved, “So it was pretty early that I knew that was the thing I wanted to do.” And Jennings certainly doesn’t lack competitive spirit, having played soccer at Exeter University and other English universities, as well having played semi-pro. His team at Vassar recognizes Jennings’ fire as well. “He gets up for games and practices. He’s the loudest one cheering on the sidelines. He’s very motivational and inspiring” said senior Tom Wiechert.
Jennings takes mental training very seriously as well, having gotten his bachelor’s degree in Education from Exeter University, master’s of arts in Education from the College of William and Mary, and his doctorate in sports psychology at the University of Maryland.
Originally, Jennings planned on having a one-year stay at Vassar. Looking back, now entering his fifth year, what kept him around was the distinct student body. “Vassar is really diverse. Lots of different opinions, attitudes and values. I really love that concept. The Vassar kids are very questioning.” Vassar athletics have certainly changed since Jennings’ first year. Jennings has been with VC men’s soccer since back when The Miscellany News in ‘86 described Vassar athletics as an oxymoron in their editorial, and all the way until his 200th last week.
Jennings left Vassar to study at the University of Maryland, earning his PhD in sports psychology. He became the College’s first Athletics Director in 1996. Upon finally making his way back to his much-desired coaching position, Jennings brought along many of the lessons he learned about mental training. “We spend a lot of time on leadership, on accountability, on responsibility,” said Jennings, “It’s going to happen off the field. More importantly for them as individuals, they’re going to develop as individuals into becoming better leaders.” Jennings believes in mental development to get the most out of his players to remain successful, “Technically, you can improve players, but they’re not going to improve a great deal. So that psychological component is very important.”
“I think we’ve created a program now,” said Jennings, “a program that kids really can realize their potential athletically in terms of the quality of the coaches, the quality of the facilities, and the level of support.” Wiechert sees how Jennings has spearheaded this change in the VCMS program, saying, “He’s had a strong voice in representing the program. He’s well mannered with good with developing relationships. That’s been very beneficial for the team and athletics, because his active voice with his inspiration. His relationships with the faculty are integral to our program’s success. He’s really held the program together.”
Jennings has big plans for the team this year, “We always have two goals. Basically to win the regular season championship and the conference championship, so the playoffs,” he said. Another goal he has in mind is an NCAA bid, after hopefully finding success in the league. Senior Captain Tom Wiechert concurred commenting “Our expectations are always to go to the playoffs. Going to the NCAA’s is always the goal.” This impressive list seems quite achievable for the Brewers this year, as they have emerged from the beginning of their tough schedule undefeated. 200 is definitely not the limit for Jennings and VC men’s soccer. He feels the team’s depth, technical focus, control, and leadership will propel them into success in the Liberty League and beyond. To achieve those goals, Wiechert commented that Jennings emphasizes a team-oriented attitude. “Attitude is probably the biggest: having a positive attitude, the right attitude. Going into the game focused, and not getting upset. Mainly the attitude of working hard for the players around you. For the team, not selfishly. Having the right attitude promotes that behavior,” said Wiechert.
It’s not all about scores and statistics for Jennings though, “[I] realized that Vassar was the place that I really felt more comfortable with in terms of the ideology of the athletic academic balance.” he said, on returning to Vassar. “That’s what playing sports is all about. I mean, yeah you want to win, but also in this environment, creating an educational environment for players to improve socially, emotionally and psychologically and all those personality traits: better leadership and accountability.” His respect for student athletes putting academics first and focus on creating an environment for personal growth and collective happiness has really ingratiated Jennings to his team and those in the Vassar community. “He goes by Andy, not coach Jennings,” said Wiechert, “It shows his personablilty with the team. he’s an endearing person with the players.”