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You’re Wearing My Number

Fan discussion of the Vanderbilt Commodores Soccer Team.

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You’re Wearing My Number

Post by admin » Tue Jan 07, 2020 3:18 pm

Vanderbilt alumni network and mentoring program helping link soccer’s past, present and future

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (VUAD)— When Darren Ambrose arrived at Vanderbilt in 2015 he sensed there was a void.

It wasn’t that the Commodores were lacking in talent or facilities or foundational structure, it was just that somewhere along the way the dozens of women who had laid the groundwork for one of the Southeastern Conference’s top programs had been disconnected from the program.

“We want community. Man wasn’t made to live on his own. He wasn’t made to live on an island,” Ambrose said. “I think we are fortunate that we are in a position to connect people to bring more meaning to our lives. That’s what this job is.”

Through exhaustive efforts by Ambrose, director of operations Laura Lamberth and Ambrose’s staff, Vanderbilt soccer now has a wide network connecting former student-athletes from the last four decades. They subscribe to an alumni newsletter, keep up with the program via social media and even attend matches home and away.

But Ambrose took the initiative a step further by implementing a mentorship program he has seen work wonders during a previous stop during his coaching career. He knew that former Commodores wanted to help with a financial donation here or there, as most do with all sports on campus, but he also knew that that many wanted to be involved in a more gratifying way.

“I think at institutions like ours, the biggest thing we talk about is the type of people you’re around,” Ambrose said. “Kids that come into schools like ours and the (Ivy League), they’re motivated and focused – and they also want to stay connected and give back. I think in general we all want to be connected to something. We all want to be a part of an organization, a part of something.

“I think a collegiate athletic experience is a huge part of what becomes our identity of who we are.”


When Ambrose coached at the University of Pennsylvania, he witnessed firsthand how impactful the relationship between graduates and current student-athletes could be.

Umentor is an online system that allows current Vanderbilt student-athletes to connect with former Commodores from all walks of life. It allows members of the current program to ask questions about life, education, career and, of course, the rigors of being a Vandy student-athlete.

The Commodores are matched with alums who are professionals in the current student-athlete’s field of study. If minds or career paths change then so do the mentors.

Our alumnae are so important to our program.

“For me it was really important to stay connected to something that was so impactful and to have a sense of community with that continuing on even though I wasn’t at the school anymore,” said Claire Anderson, a Vandy defender from 2013-16. “I just think there’s a huge opportunity for college athletes from a career standpoint – I don’t think that they’re getting the same opportunities and level of attention (of traditional students). It’s not that there’s not resources out there that the student-athletes could do themselves, but the structure is not set up for student-athletes.

“I think the mentoring program is a great way to meet student-athletes, where they are at and keep those relationships going. It’s obviously a really powerful way to get careers jumpstarted through your network.”

Ambrose explained a current student-athlete and alum are introduced via email. Each then has a few online tasks to complete before the two speak via phone call or video call. From there the pair stays in touch throughout a career and beyond.

But there’s also a system of checks and balances in place that allows Ambrose and staff to watch the progress of the online tasks, which tasks have been completed and at what frequency they’ve been checked off the list. Over time, Ambrose said, the student-athlete begins to understand they’re linked to an individual who went through the same emotional, mental, physical and educational battles as they are going through.

“It just provides an emotional connection and support for kids and they realize they’re not the only ones that have ever done this. It’s commonality,” Ambrose said. “We’re all joined by what we share. You can’t replicate that. Our job is not just about the job, it’s about connecting people that have shared experiences that will lead to, hopefully, something else.

“The depth of this is pretty significant.”

Perhaps the root of all these connections takes a significant hold because current Commodores have someone they can speak with in confidentiality about things maybe their coaches or advisors or teammates don’t understand. The mentor and alum can use reassuring advice coupled with shared experiences.

All of this also allows those who spent four years on West End to remain connected on a personal level to those who reside there now.

“The mentoring program is for kids who are dead-focused on their sport, which is totally respectful, but then what’s next?” Erin Myers, a former Vanderbilt midfielder and defender (2012-15), said. “There’s sort of a curriculum for the younger players which is to build trust, build a relationship, build a resume and a cover letter and the basic stuff before you dig into what do you want to do next whether it’s connecting with internships, building a network with the tactics of LinkedIn and all that.

“A lot of people and older players from teams in the 80s and 90s are very grateful for the opportunity to be a part of something and feel like they’re just as involved as someone who graduated last year – whether they know the players or not.”


At the start of the 2018 season, Ambrose had alumni write an email to his current players. The subject line of that email: “That’s my jersey you’re wearing.”

The narrative hit home.

“I had some of the girls read those to the team and it was goosebumps and tears. It was just awesome,” Ambrose said. “It was almost a lightbulb moment. This means a lot to a lot of people.”

But even Ambrose couldn’t have predicted what happened next.

On Aug. 19, 2018, after a 3-0 win at Jacksonville University, former Vanderbilt men’s soccer player – Harvey Baxter – stepped onto the field to congratulate the Commodores on their victory.

Then he looked in toward Karissa King’s direction, pointed and said, “I wore that number.”

Since that first meeting, Baxter has driven across the Southeast to catch numerous Commodore games both in Nashville and on the road.

“It just drove home to me and the girls that it’s so significant,” Ambrose said. “That star V is really meaningful in a way that you all don’t really comprehend. That moved me. That gives me chills.”

Part of Ambrose’s effort to connect former Commodores from all teams of the past was to create an alumni board. It helps run and publicize events, organize tailgates, give feedback development to the program and be active on social media.

Vandy’s current alumni board meets via teleconference two or three times a year and for the first time in 2018 started having an in-person board meeting in April. The 2019 meeting had 7 of the 8 board members present.

“(Ambrose) started putting into place a bunch of different ways that alumni could get involved and just be a presence,” Myers said. “So we started writing letters and started the board and had the mentoring program and just all these things that I didn’t know were missing but I felt a gap as a player. He started putting the infrastructure in so that we could connect.

“Even talking to some of the older alums that have been out for longer and maybe disconnected, everyone wanted to feel welcomed, they just didn’t know how to go about getting back in touch and we’ve done a lot of work to do so. I thought that was such a great worthwhile experience to be able to pour back into the students as they’re super-busy and involved in all the things that I was.”

Recent graduates like Myers and Anderson have seen firsthand how much the alumni network has grown – Anderson estimates more than 100 former Vandy student-athletes are now active. Those alums show up at matches on West End and on the road, at the Southeastern Conference and NCAA Tournament and at alumni events in the spring.

The responses have been overwhelmingly positive for a group of women who never stopped bleeding black and gold.

“I think it’s a testament to the value that (Ambrose) places on alumni engagement, both as a source of mentorship and a source of support for the program,” Alexander said. “For the older players, maybe they haven’t been involved because nobody reached out or no one was engaged with them.

“Now they’re getting to re-engage with this program and getting to see how much it meant to them has been super cool.”

Ambrose will welcome in Vanderbilt’s freshman class of 2020 later this summer and one of their first lessons will be understanding the rich tradition of Vandy soccer, the weight with which their own personal jersey holds and the significance of the number of which they wear. The new crop of Commodores will soon be introduced to all those that came before them and the comprehension of all that won’t be soon behind.

All thanks to Ambrose’s efforts to bridge the gap between what was, what is and what will become of Vanderbilt soccer.

“I think people have to understand that it’s a tremendous investment to find everybody and communicate – but I love it. I love hearing what it was like and I love hearing the stories. What you find is that it is meaningful to people,” Ambrose said. “When you approach them about it – for most of us in life some of our fondest memories are in our college years. And especially if you’re an athlete there’s a significant number of them.

“When the program wasn’t as successful in terms of wins and losses in some years as it was in others, many of those women are looking now and thinking, ‘Wow, that’s awesome. I played soccer at Vanderbilt.’ ”
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