The beauty in defeat: Lessons from a season of high expectations

| Senior Sports Editor

I’ve had the misfortune of watching two of my favorite teams—each an apparent juggernaut in their sport—suffer unexpected losses this season.

The first time was in early September, when the Washington University women’s soccer team fell in double overtime to then-No.19 University of St. Thomas. It was jarring. The Bears hadn’t lost a regular season game in over a year. They had played well throughout the game and overtime, but the Tommies managed to sink the golden goal before the Bears did.

Matthew Friedman | Student Life

Freshman Jolie Carl jukes a St. Thomas University defender near the top of the Bobcats’ box on Sept. 7. The Bears are on a nine game hot streak after dropping the St. Thomas matchup, 1-0.

The second time was this Sunday. Tension was high when the Kansas City Chiefs faced the Houston Texans. The Chiefs were fresh off their first loss of the season, having fallen to the Indianapolis Colts last week. Quarterback extraordinaire Patrick Mahomes looked human in that loss to the Colts, taking some blows and missing throws that he has made routinely since taking over as the leader of the Chiefs. Against the Texans, Kansas City fans hoped that what happened against Indianapolis was a fluke.

The game showed it wasn’t. Patrick Mahomes is, in fact, fallible. He threw his first interception of the season late in the game. The Texans didn’t let him touch the ball much in the second half, and the few chances he got were largely ineffective. But Mahomes wasn’t the largest problem for the Chiefs. The defense revealed itself to be a work in progress, and the offensive line looked spotty. No running backs stepped up to make their signal-caller’s job any easier.

In the moments after these losses, I felt the urge to overreact. I worried about how the Bears would fare in their UAA schedule and postseason if they couldn’t put away St. Thomas. I was afraid that the Chiefs were setting themselves up for yet another late season disappointment. But as time went on, I felt something I hadn’t expected: relief.

Every game is terrifying when you’re expecting perfection. When you leave little room for error, every little mistake is a nightmare. Every conceded goal is the end of the season. Every missed field goal loses the Super Bowl.

But when a team takes its lumps early, we can recalibrate our expectations and make them more realistic. We can redefine what we mean by excellence.

The first loss for a great team is like heavy rain after a week of brutal humidity. As the storm pelts us relentlessly, it can be scary. But the day after, the skies are clear and the air is light. With the tension gone, we can properly appreciate what is happening here and now.

In the game after the Bears lost to St. Thomas, Wash. U. blasted Transylvania University. They ran through DePauw University and Rhodes College before facing Wheaton College. Against the Thunder, they found themselves in the same situation they had been in less than two weeks earlier: in double overtime, seeking the golden goal against a tough opponent. The Bears executed well. They generated their own opportunities and denied Wheaton chances. When they finally broke through to win the game, I felt my anxiety fade as the team began to celebrate.

Reflecting on that game, I remember how exciting it was. I remember how electric junior Ellie DeConinck was, with her long shots and the pressure she put on the Wheaton goalkeeper and defense. I remember how tense the game was when senior Taylor Cohen went down with cramps late in the second half. I remember the sheer joy from team and fans when freshman Jolie Carl beat the keeper to win the game. Seeing how well they responded, how they bounced back after their loss, I remembered what makes a team great.

Greatness doesn’t mean being so good that you never face adversity. It means being resilient enough to consistently overcome it.

The Bears have shown that they are a great team. They have now won nine consecutive games and are the No. 4 team in Division III. Heading into the thick of their UAA schedule, they look to be hitting stride. The Bears could not have responded to adversity any better, and they look like they’re having fun out there.

It is too early to judge whether the Chiefs will do the same. The holes in the defense and on the offensive line will not go away overnight. However, those holes were there last season and the Chiefs were still inches away from the Super Bowl. They’ve lost two close contests to teams that will either be in the playoffs or be in contention for the playoffs late in the season. There is reason to worry, but there is no reason to panic.

There is also reason to hope. Even in losses, Patrick Mahomes is must-watch TV. Regardless of whether his deep passes hit their target, while they’re in the air, you can hear his opponents holding their breath and his fans’ heartbeats speed up with excitement. In both losses, Mahomes completed a touchdown pass that looked impossible. Against the Texans, it was a 50-50 ball to Tyreek Hill that looked like a sure interception. Against the Colts, it was a scrambling 30-yard dime thrown across his body to Byron Pringle. Only two years into his career, he has already pulled so many rabbits out of hats that when he fails to create something from nothing, it’s shocking.

The beauty in defeat is its ability to return us to basics. It humbles us and demands that we treat our heroes as mere mortals, which makes their achievements even more special. It reminds us that it doesn’t matter whether our teams win or lose—there’s something magical in the game itself.

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