Last month, we covered Vassar men’s soccer earning its first NCAA tournament berth since 2016. The weekend after our story ran, the Brewers did one better.
By both ranking and recent program success, the Brewers entered their Round of 64 matchup against Babson College as the underdogs.
The Beavers won the Round of 64 last season and had just completed an impressive championship run through the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC). They were also ranked 13th in the country and first in their regional rankings.
But, as usually is the case in sports, rankings and past wins become only a distant memory when an elimination game begins.
After a scoreless first half, a 53rd-minute Babson goal opened the scoring. 14 minutes later, captain Owen Fauth ’23 answered with the equalizing goal that would push the game into extra time and then penalty kicks.
And while Babson held the tournament experience advantage, Vassar was only eight days removed from experiencing the pressure of penalty kicks to determine elimination in the Liberty League semifinals, when they had three penalty kicks saved in a loss to Skidmore.
This time around, Vassar executed flawlessly under duress. The Brewers scored on their first three penalty attempts—the only three they would need as Babson sent three straight attempts over the crossbar after connecting on their opening try.
Though keeper Eric Wnorowski ’23 did not have to make any penalty saves, his impact in goal was undeniable as his presence forced the Babson players to operate within tight margins and make mistakes. Wnorowski finished the match with eight saves, including a crucial save in extra time that assured the game would be decided by penalties.
The victory marked the end of a decade-long NCAA tournament win drought and the third tournament win in program history.
A day later, the Brewers came close to making program history once again, as they fell to eighth-ranked Bowdoin College in penalty kicks. A victory would have earned the Brewers their first Sweet Sixteen appearance in program history.
The program’s success this season is made even more impressive when considering that it happened under the tutelage of first-year Head Coach Jonathan Hood.
Hood, who came to Vassar after a successful four years as the Assistant Coach at Colorado College, praised the team’s ability to grow with a completely new face entering the mix.
“I cannot say enough good things about how the team responded to a new coach coming in,” he told The Miscellany News in an email correspondence.
Hood credited the team’s success to their ability to implement improvements in the specific areas he identified as needing emphasis heading into the season.
“Some things I wanted to emphasize included a front foot mindset, which entailed a more dynamic attack, higher defensive pressure and tactical versatility,” said Hood. “The team was very receptive to these ideas and responded well every day in practice, which allowed for these concepts to be adopted well and incorporated into our style of play.”
Such improvements were on display throughout the entire season as the team was often able to emerge victorious regardless of how the game unfolded.
Early in Liberty League play, the Brewers won big with shutouts against RIT and Bard. In the last week of conference play, Vassar was able to win two crucial games against RPI and Ithaca 2-1. And, of course, in the NCAA tournament, the team was able to hold its own in defensive battles for all 120 minutes of play to force the game into penalty kicks.
The more dynamic Brewer attack had three offensive players, Owen Fauth ’23, Ryan Lane ’23 and Duncan Keker ’25, named to the Liberty League All-League First Team. The stout defensive side was also well-recognized with goalkeeper Eric Wnorowski ’23 and defensemen Nolan Alexander ’23 and Danny Berry ’25 earning second team honors.
Along with the improvements Hood was able to successfully implement, the impact of this year’s senior class cannot be understated, as reflected in all-conference recognition. As first-years, their season ended in the first round of the Liberty League tournament. Four years later, they finished their careers by advancing as far in the national tournament as any Vassar men’s soccer team ever has.
And while the Class of 2023 will certainly be sorely missed, Hood is optimistic about the program’s future.
“I know the team is eager for more and thus are motivated to work toward taking the program to new heights,” said Hood. “With the vast majority of this special group returning for next season and the addition of some great first-year players, we are all excited about getting back to work in preparation for 2023.”