It seems like Vassar College’s field hockey defensive unit has an answer for everything nowadays. Whether they are blocking shots on the goal line as second nature like they did Saturday in their shutout against Ramapo College or laying out their team goals for the season without hesitation, senior captain and midfielder Cristina Lopez and company are more than ready to respond to whatever comes their way.
The team, as a whole, is coming off a highly successful year, in which they won their first-ever Liberty League Championship and advanced to the NCAA tournament—but likely not without a sense of bittersweetness. They lost a heartbreaking shutout in the second round of the NCAAs, ending the four-year run of a wonder class led by All-American defender Monica Feeley ’19. When asked about the impact of losing such a great graduating class, sophomore defender Carina D’Souza swiftly answered: “Yeah, I think that we lost great players, but we lost big voices on our team too. So, it was a big opportunity for a lot of different people to step up.” Lopez promptly added that the team didn’t stress over the loss of the previous senior class. Instead, she explained: “I think we’ve focused a lot more on the strengths that we have this year and playing as a team rather than looking at the individual players that we lost and the spots we needed to fill. It has been very fluid.”
As the famous phrase goes, defense wins games. Championship-level defensive squads thrive on their coordination, swagger and bonds—verbal and unspoken— that assure teammates will be there to step up when one individual falters. In other words, it’s a unit, and when you take away one piece of that unit, the system is bound to struggle. The Brewers have seemed to elude this fateful lapse in quality, instead proving themselves to be at the same standard with a new generation.
This is evident as, despite their losses, the Brewers have still managed to set new precedents, with their best start in program history. Coming hot out of the gates with a 7-0 start, including four shutouts already this season, the Brewers are establishing once again that they are a defensive force to be reckoned with across the country. Even though they have displayed prowess early, junior defender Ally Aquilina-Piscitello insists that the unit prides itself on consistency and patience. “We never want to be amazing and horrible, we need to be consistent every single game, especially on defensive corners because that can be a goal every time against us,” said Aquilina-Piscitello. If the Brewers can live up to this mindset heading into every game, wins are destined to add up. Yet, countless teams do not achieve this demanding goal and find themselves having moments of greatness quickly undermined by costly mistakes. The Brewers can proudly say they do not have this problem. They stand true to Aquilina-Piscitello’s words and remain an unshakeable force that they hope will only gain strength with the remaining games to come.
Up next for the Brewers is their last out-of-conference game on Wednesday, Sept. 25 against Hartwick College before their Liberty League at-home opener versus Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on Saturday. Ranked No. 6 in the country, the Brewers are likely to face other highly proven opponents outside of the Liberty League in the postseason, maybe even earning a chance to partake in revenge against No. 1 Middlebury, who knocked them out of the second round of the NCAA tournament last year. Still, when asked what game they are most looking forward to this season, all the players answered undoubtedly, “Rochester.” Revenge might be sweet, but beating your Liberty League rival is way sweeter. “Rochester is always a good game. We know we are always evenly matched with them, and it kinda honestly doesn’t even, at this point, depend on who’s playing,” Lopez explained. “I think our rivalry has been built up so much the last few years that no matter who’s on the field it is always going to be a good game; it is going to be super competitive. We were fortunate enough to beat them twice last year, so we know that they are definitely going to be hungry this year [especially because] it’s away this year.”
Although their dominant defense is their backbone, the team wouldn’t be where they are just with the defense alone. Their Liberty League-leading offense adds a sense of finesse to their game that—combined with their defense—could propel them into Liberty League history. Junior midfielder Grace Amell leads the team with 10 points and is tied for the team lead in goals at four with senior forward Stephanie Palma, but there has been contribution across the board, with one player from each class year scoring at least once so far.
While their defensive unit is taking every practice and game day-by-day, the Brewers have big plans. Every team’s initial aspiration is to win the Liberty League, but this team already has plans to go farther. “We want to go really far in NCAAs this year after we win [the Liberty League]. I think last year we [were] really excited to win the league, and that was our first big goal, but this year we know we can do a lot better,” explained senior goalkeeper Liz Rotolo. While most Vassar teams would be elated with even an NCAA bid, when you ask this one what their ultimate goal for the season is, the answer is prompt and simple: “Final Four.”