COLUMBIA — The seniors on the Rock Bridge girls soccer team came into the program at the same time Marc VanDover returned to coaching. They are getting ready to leave with him, too. After 15 years of coaching soccer on and off, VanDover has decided to retire at the end of this season.
“This time, I’ve just really enjoyed it, but it just takes so much time. We need some young blood in there,” VanDover said.
Rock Bridge Bruins (14-6)
at Waynesville Tigers (17-9)
WHEN: 6 p.m.
WHERE: Slaughter Field - Waynesville Middle School, 1001 Historic Route 66, Waynesville
VanDover left the program in 2006. He said he thought he needed to step away, and that the program needed new motivation and ideas. Later, though, he realized he had made the wrong decision.
“After a year, I thought that was a bad idea," VanDover said. "I just really missed it. I enjoyed that interaction. I really enjoyed coaching.”
He came back as the junior varsity coach, but was chosen to lead the varsity team in 2009 after then-coach Kelly Gates resigned for personal reasons.
It was more than just VanDover’s first year back as head coach. The 2009 season was also the first year for a group of girls that went on to win four district championships. Sharing four titles and four years of play has formed a special connection between VanDover and the 2012 seniors. He said finishing in fourth place in the state in 2010 when the players were sophomores was a significant moment.
"That was a bonding experience like no other," VanDover said. "With this group, you can still hold that up and hold them accountable."
That accountability is what has led them to another sectional game this year. VanDover recognizes that all seven seniors are leaders on his team, and there is not one specific person he looks to help him guide the group.
The reason the seniors lead and play so well together could be attributed to their close relationships off the field.
“Not only on the field, but off the field, a lot of us are really good friends, and we’re really close because we’ve grown up together," senior forward Lexi Bumby said. "When you play soccer, and you’re on a team that you’ve grown up with, you just have that special connection and bond with them.”
VanDover said one other thing sets apart his seniors: their sense of humor.
“A lot of practical jokes have gone on in the last four years," VanDover said. "It’s helped them bond together, stay loose, and still seem to focus when it’s time to work.”
There is still a debate going on over whether the players put a humorous CD in his car stereo last year during practice. As he was driving to school the next morning, VanDover turned on his CD player and was surprised by what he heard. He claims it was them, but Bumby and the other girls deny the allegation.
VanDover is relying on the practical jokers to lead their team to the state semifinals, which has been the Bruins goal all season. Only one senior, Anna Alioto, will go on to play college soccer. For VanDover and the other six seniors, their soccer careers are about to come to an end. Bumby summed it up.
"It (winning the district title) meant a lot to me all four years, but especially this year just because I know this is my last opportunity to go further in the postseason."
Supervising editor is Grant Hodder.