COLUMBIA — After being accompanied to midfield by their parents on senior night, the Rock Bridge girls soccer team’s six seniors were greeted by a familiar face: former Bruins coach Marc VanDover.
VanDover, in his first year of retirement, was on the field to help honor his former players who graduate at the end of this school year. VanDover stayed for the game, a 3-0 Bruins victory over Smith-Cotton on Monday evening at Rock Bridge.
The former coach has attended the majority of the Bruins home games this season, watching the program he spent the majority of the past 15 seasons in control of.
As the game was played, VanDover stood along the fence surrounding the field under a light post, conversing with former players and parents of former players who stopped to catch up with him. Wearing sunglasses underneath a black Nike golf cap, VanDover was reserved. A few celebratory claps after a Bruins goal were the extent of the emotion he showed.
“I just hold up the fence,” VanDover said. “I just want to be supportive.”
This is VanDover’s second retirement – he left the program after 2006 for personal reasons but returned three years later. After leading the Bruins to four consecutive district titles and a state semifinal in 2010, VanDover decided after last season it was time to permanently put away his whistle.
“When you look at when’s the best time to step away, there really isn’t a best time because each year you get a new group of great kids coming up,” VanDover said. “This time I knew it was the right time to retire, though.”
He’s enjoying the extra free time retirement has granted him. He still works part-time in the school district but golfs more often, though he says his skills on the links haven’t improved. But he still misses his coaching days.
And his former players miss him, too.
Four of the six graduating seniors listed the times coach VanDover gathered the team for a trip to Andy’s Frozen Custard as their favorite Rock Bridge soccer memory.
Senior defender Sydney Ringdahl recalled being told to line up, presumably for suicide sprints at the end of practice. Then VanDover, whom his former players call “V,” would tell the group to head to the bus and would then drive them the short distance to Andy’s, where he would always foot the bill. Ringdahl said this would happen about four times a season.
“We always tried to put a little practice and fun together,” VanDover said.
Current Rock Bridge coach Jack Rubenstein, who played under VanDover at Rock Bridge a decade ago, uses VanDover’s approach as a blueprint to coaching.
“Working under him for five years, a lot of what he does and what he believes was instilled in me,” said Rubenstein. “I’m still trying to find my coaching style, but definitely I look back on experiences with him as learning tools.”
The two converse often and golf together whenever possible, but VanDover says the last thing Rubenstein needs is any advice.
“He’s got more answers than I have questions,” VanDover said.
If Rubenstein ever does need advice, VanDover will assist him. In the meantime, attending games is comforting to VanDover, who plans to continue to show up.
“It is a way to help me step away, especially knowing the program is in good hands with coach Jack, so that means a lot,” VanDover said.