Before Friday, folks that aren’t Vanderbilt soccer fans may not have heard the name Sarah Fuller. And prior to this year, she was just the backup goalie on a very good team. In her first three years with the Commodores, Fuller saw time in net just twice.
She didn’t even enter this year as a starter. But after three games, coach Darren Ambrose finally gave her a shot. She went 7-2, with a 0.97 GAA. Fuller had a streak of 314 minutes without a goal allowed between Oct. 17 and Nov 8, spanning nearly four games.
Her dominance in net showed that she was always capable. She just needed a chance. And with the football team short-handed, they called upon Fuller. She would become the first woman to kick in a Power-5 football game.
Fuller became the third woman overall to kick in a Division I football game. Katie Hinda did it for New Mexico, and April Goss for Kent State.
What Led Fuller Here
It’s pretty simple if you think about it. Sarah Fuller has a dynamic work ethic. She warmed the soccer bench for three years, never once complaining about lack of a role (publicly, at least). She opened her senior year as a backup, not guaranteed any field time.
Vanderbilt is an extremely challenging university, academically speaking. She really had to have loved soccer, to have stuck with it despite very little playing time. A team is only as good as its backups at the end of the day, but it’s got to be hard to work as hard as all the other players, knowing you may never play.
Clearly, it paid off. Fuller was fantastic from the get-go, helping the Commodores to a 7-2 record while she was in net. And her performance caught the eye of then-football coach Derek Mason and his staff.
They needed a kicker for their game on Saturday. Fuller’s got a BOOT. She took a free kick and sent it from Vanderbilt’s side of the field, all the way into the attacking-third on the other end. It led to a goal. The rare goalie-assist. She fit the bill. History was set to be made.
The Next Step
After practicing with the team, it seemed that Fuller was ready to go. She would serve as the starting kicker for Vanderbilt, a team with an 0-7 record that had very little luck that season. This was the first thing they did correctly the whole year.
There were three games in which the Commodores lost by one possession, prior to Saturday. They nearly upset #10 Texas A & M. And they were close against Kentucky. Maybe that meant that they could pull the upset against Mizzou.
We didn’t see Fuller in the first half, as the offense never got over midfield. Nothing was working for them. So, when they kicked off to start the second half, they sent her out to send the ball deep. Given the struggles of the offense, a squib kick seemed a good idea, hoping to recover deep in Mizzou territory.
Fuller’s squib was a beauty, despite the team being unable to recover it. She gave special teams a chance to make a play, but it just didn’t work out.
Unfortunately, we wouldn’t hear from Sarah Fuller for the rest of the game. The offense continued to struggle, and never got into field-goal range. Her day was done. The kick she did make, was as perfect as it could have been.
The team lost 41-0.
For Her Efforts
Though she never had a chance to put points on the board, Fuller’s historic squib kick was enough to land her as the co-SEC Special Teams Player of the Week. She split the honor with Florida punt returner Kadarius Toney.
A day Fuller will never forget. A day for equality in sport.