On Saturday, Nov. 5, Vassar men’s soccer rewrote history. After a long, 90-minute battle, it all came down to a penalty kick with 3.4 seconds left in the game. When junior Alex Gonzales chipped the ball past Skidmore’s goalie Derek Yam, the Vassar men’s soccer team won the Liberty League championship.
While the team has reached post-season play in five of the last six seasons, this year’s momentous title is the program’s first since 2011. However, the Brewers did not earn this title without a fight.
To get to the championships, the Brewers first had to defeat Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in the semi-finals on Wednesday, Nov. 2. The team did just that as freshman Mattie Mrlik netted a hat trick to lift the Brewers over the Engineers 3-1.
On Wednesday, Vassar took the field with extreme intensity and proved dominance early in the match-up. The team first got on the scoreboard as junior Hayden Van Brewer crossed the ball into the box for Mrlik to head it passed RPI’s goalkeeper Matt LaBranche.
Junior Jose Novas assisted Mrlik’s second goal as he gave Mrlik a leading pass to then take on LaBranche for a second time. Next up, none other than senior goalie Adam Warner assisted the Brewer’s final goal. After a great save, Warner punted the ball into RPI’s box, where Mrlik capitalized to make the score 3-0 going into halftime.
“The first half against RPI was one of the best we have played this season–we connected offensively and finished on a number of the opportunities,” shared Head Coach Andy Jennings. “Defensively, we were good, but when a team possesses the ball as much as we did, we were not really tested in the defensive third. A great performance and a really good result.”
Early in the second half, the Engineers then got on the scoreboard with a goal from Austin Betterly. Nonetheless, Warner and the rest of the squad held RPI for the rest of the match to clinch a spot in the league championships.
With smiles on their faces, the men then headed to the locker room to watch the remainder of the semi-final match between top-seeded Hobart and No. 4 Skidmore. Even with two rounds of overtime, Skidmore and Hobart were in a stalemate with a score of 2-2.
As the game then turned to penalty kicks, Skidmore finally claimed the win and its spot in the finals. With Vassar holding the higher seed, the Brewers were officially set to host the Liberty League Championships.
Coach Jennings stated, “Hosting any championship is a privilege, so we are excited about that. We also play a lot better at home because of the quality of the pitch, not having to travel, etc. so that is a big plus–but Skidmore is a very good team and we will need to repeat Wednesday’s performance to be successful.”
The finals between the Brewers and the Skidmore Thoroughbreds then took place on the afternoon of Saturday, Nov. 5, at 1 p.m.
Early in the game, Vassar received a bit of a wake-up call as Skidmore scored the first goal at 13:45. With a sideline throw-in, Skidmore’s Ben Caples reached teammate Robbie Heumann, who headed the ball past Warner.
Ready for revenge, VC then evened the score a mere 59 seconds later with a goal from sophomore defender Tyler Gilmore. After Van Brewer threw in a sideline pass, RPI defenders struggled with the ball until Gilmore took control and zipped the ball past Yam.
Nevertheless, the Thoroughbreds capitalized once more and forced Vassar to enter halftime down 1-2.
Coming out of the break, the Brewers took the field ready to equalize the score once more. At 54:31, Skidmore fouled inside the box to give junior Tanner Sands a penalty kick and a golden opportunity. As Sands faked out Yam, he evened the score to 2-2.
A 35-minute period of nail-biting, scoreless deadlock then followed. But this all changed as Skidmore fouled for a second time inside the box to put Gonzales on the line. As Gonzales then knocked the ball passed Yam, Vassar took its first lead of the championship. With a score of 3-2, there were only 3.4 seconds left until VC clenched the Liberty League title.
As the clock ticked to zero, around 100 Vassar fans stormed the field to huddle the new champions. A ceremony soon followed, where Vassar was then awarded with the Liberty League plaque as well as t-shirts. Nevertheless, these were not the only souvenirs of the historic win.
With a multitude of fouls from the Thoroughbreds, Warner, Gilmore and Sands all exited the field with resulting injuries. While Gilmore suffered a broken nose, Warner dislocated his shoulder and Sands endured an injured knee. But even with these injuries, the men were victorious and are officially the best men’s soccer team in the Liberty League.
Senior captain Stephen Jennings smiled, “It feels amazing, a Liberty League championship was my goal from the beginning of the year, and we got it done. We definitely deserve it, and I am so happy we closed out the Liberty League with a win.”
Like Jennings, Gonzales was overjoyed with the win, as well as his contribution to the team’s victory. “It was a surreal experience. It was a feeling and moment that I’ll remember forever,” Gonzales beamed. “The fact that it came down to the final few seconds made it even more special. I was so excited that our team was able to accomplish the goal we set for ourselves, and to do so in that fashion was truly amazing.”
With the league title, Vassar’s season will continue as the Brewers head to the NCAA tournament. For the first round of play, the team will travel to Newark, NJ to face Elizabethtown College on Saturday, Nov. 12.
The Elizabethtown Blue Jays earned a spot in the NCAA tournament due to their impressive season record of 13-3-2. But how does this record compare to the Brewer’s 14-3-2? In terms of competition overlap, both teams played against Hobart College earlier this season. While VC fell to Hobart 2-3 in overtime, Elizabethtown earned the win with a score of 3-0.
With this in mind, the men will train endlessly over the next few days to prepare for the battle. Gonzales explained, “We had our time to celebrate, and now it’s time to get back to work. With this feeling still being very fresh, we will try to build off of it in order to continue to win.”
While Elizabethtown has proved to be tough competition, they are not unbeatable. In fact, the Blue Jays will enter the tournament coming off of their most recent loss to the University of Scranton in the Landmark conference championships.
Jennings continued, “We just have to keep playing our game. If we can play like we did against RPI, we can beat anybody. We have to keep our focus this week and hone in on what we do best.”
Regardless of Saturday’s result, the men have had a tremendous season and set a precedent for continued success. In addition to capturing a Liberty League title, this year’s squad finished with the program’s strongest record in over a decade.
“I can’t stress how excited we all are about being part of such a historical season for the program,” Jennings said. “It is a huge accomplishment that every single player worked hard for. Winning the league with such a phenomenal group of kids that displayed an incredible work ethic all season is awesome.”