Women’s soccer fails to repeat historic upset; sequels suck

Vassar women’s soccer, which last season defeated the 12-years-running Liberty League champion William Smith Herons in a historic upset, fell 4-1 to those same Herons last Saturday. The loss brought the Brewers to 2-2 in the league so far. Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

A modern proverb holds that the sequel is always worse than the original. On Saturday, Oct. 12, Vassar women’s soccer found that out the hard way, suffering a 4-1 defeat at the hands of William Smith, nearly a calendar year after pulling off a historic upset of the Herons, who have won 12 straight Liberty League titles. Their 2018 1-0 victory was their first win over William Smith in program history: 90 minutes of true resilience and belief from a hungry underdog. On Saturday, the script regressed to the mean, as the perennially dominant Herons did what they do—they dominated.

The original “Karate Kid” is a timeless movie, a canonic tale of a determined protagonist perfecting his craft to knock off a seemingly insurmountable foe. Rotten Tomatoes recognizes the movie’s greatness, giving the film an 88 percent on its unassailable Tomatometer. Vassar women’s soccer received its own recognition for toppling William Smith in 2018, in the form of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, despite a record barely above .500. The repetitive excellence of then-sophomore goalkeeper Fiona Walsh’s 15-save shutout in 2018 echoed Daniel LaRusso practicing the crane kick over and over again on the beach, before unleashing it on Johnny Lawrence’s stupid face in the All-Valley Karate Championship.

“The Next Karate Kid,” a sequel you probably didn’t know existed, got a seven percent on the Tomatometer. The first half of Saturday’s game was definitely more encouraging than the blasphemous reboot of Mr. Miyagi, as the Brewers held William Smith to a scoreless tie at halftime. After the break, though, the fourth-ranked team in Division III upped the tempo and buried the Brewers beneath a 13-shot avalanche. The Herons took a 2-0 lead behind a laser from senior Emilie Sauvayre and a quick counter-attacking goal from first-year Katrine Berg. The sizable contingent of visiting fans, clad mostly in forest green windbreakers and sweaters, were boisterous and irritating in the way only parents of opposing teams can be.

With a little under 15 minutes to play, the Brewers regained some hope. Senior midfielder Savannah Cutler curled a corner kick directly into the far corner of the net, stunning the Heron defense and everybody in attendance, including maybe herself. Like the sequel to the 87 percent-rated “Caddyshack,” ambitiously titled “Caddyshack 2,” any hope of a return to the original’s success was soon lost: The Brewers conceded twice more in 10 minutes after Cutler’s goal, as William Smith closed out their fifth straight win against a Liberty League opponent. “Caddyshack 2” got a four percent on the Tomatometer.

The lessons of the sequel proverb are unclear. Movie producers have the option to not make mediocre reboots of their greatest achievements; sports teams can’t just win a milestone game and say, “Thanks, we’re good on playing against you forever.” The Brewers are on the road for their next three games, where they’re 1-4-1 this season. To carry the sequel narrative beyond this week, the Brewers went 3-2 last season against their remaining foes (St. Lawrence, Clarkson, Ithaca, RPI and RIT). If you feel like no conclusions can be drawn from these facts, you’re not alone. That’s sort of how the Brewers operate. They’ve been up and down for two straight seasons. 2019 has been no different: Their loss to William Smith was their second straight, on the heels of two straight wins to open Liberty League play.

Judging performance on a long-term scale can be misleading. Teams play well and lose games, and they stumble to victories they didn’t earn. The eye test tells all: The attitude and effort of a team, its focus on doing the little things, making the simple, right plays, is not always reflected in its record. On Saturday, the entire bench of Vassar soccer was vocal until the final buzzer, encouraging, prodding and commending their teammates between the lines even after the Herons put the game beyond reach. Drawing comparisons across years and months and opponents is the job of reporters; players focus on the work in front of them. As Mr. Miyagi says to Daniel, who doesn’t see the value of menial car maintenance to his karate techniques, “Wax on. Wax off.”

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