RICHMOND, Va. – Lindsey Vanderspiegel isn’t one for doing things halfway. When she’s in, she’s all in. It would seem there is no coaching-related task too insignificant or mundane that she’s not actively trying to master.
Hofstra Coach Simon Riddiough would know. He says he still hasn’t fully overcome the loss of Vanderspiegel, his assistant from 2007-2010.
“If you come into my office there’s paperwork everywhere,” Riddiough mused. “She wouldn’t allow that.”
It’s a small point, but one that’s symptomatic of the way Vanderspiegel, named the sixth head coach in VCU Women’s Soccer history on May 30, runs her ship; thorough, organized, enthusiastic. It’s likely why Vanderspiegel has climbed the coaching ladder at the speed of a runaway locomotive. At 30, the Chesapeake, Va. native is primed to take the reigns of her second Division I program. Her first foray, at Georgia Southern the last two years, produced that school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in women’s soccer.
“She’s probably one of the most ambitious people I’ve met in my life,” says her former Georgia Southern assistant, Brian Dunleavy, who has since been hired as her successor. “She’ll be rising for a long time.”
‘…I WANT TO BE INSPIRED…’
As late as 2007, Vanderspiegel was conducting background investigations for USIS, which provides security information to the federal government, in Norfolk. It was her first job out of college, and it was a good one, she says. But it didn’t make her whole.
“I want to be driven, and I want to be inspired and enthusiastic about what I do on a daily basis, and I wasn’t in that place,” Vanderspiegel says.
What did inspire Vanderspiegel was the time she spent coaching club soccer with Beach FC in Virginia Beach and playing with the Hampton Roads Piranhas semi-pro team. It engaged her the way a cubicle and a computer screen never could.
As a player at William & Mary from 2000-2003, Vanderspiegel was without peer. She was a four-time First Team All-Colonial Athletic Association pick, won the league’s Rookie of the Year award in 2000 and the Player of the Year plaque in 2003. Along the way, she led the Tribe to three conference championships and four NCAA appearances. In 2009, she was named to the CAA’s 25th Anniversary Team.
Her brief flirtation with professional soccer vanished when the WUSA folded in September of 2003. In 2004, she played in one exhibition game with the Washington Freedom, which had been reduced to a barnstorming squad of sorts by that stage, before going to work for USIS.
“As a college kid you’re only so much in the loop of that,” Vanderspiegel said of the pros. “There’s probably a little bit of denial as well. You assume that it’s just going to be around. It was gone, and then I think we all thought that it was going to come back sooner than it did.”
So Vanderspiegel pivoted. She’d majored in sociology with a focus in criminal justice at William & Mary, and once her top secret security clearance was granted, she went to work for USIS. But after two years, she knew she needed a change.
She reached out, ironically, to then-VCU Coach Denise Schilte-Brown, a former semi-pro teammate. Schilte-Brown didn’t need an assistant coach, but had heard that Riddiough was in the market for one. Riddiough remembered the 24-year-old coaching neophyte well. In 2003, Riddiough was an assistant for the Pride when Vanderspiegel led William & Mary to an upset of top-seeded Hofstra 1-0 in the CAA Tournament semifinals.
“She was tremendously competitive, highly versatile, very good understanding of the game,” Riddiough said. “[She’s] just a winner. That’s another thing I look for in a coach, do they have the mentality to be a winner, and she checked all those boxes.”
Hofstra did quite a bit of winning with Vanderspiegel as its assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. From 2007-2010, the Pride were 58-21-3 and made two NCAA Second Round appearances. In 2010, Hofstra finished 11-0 in CAA action, the first team in the league to go unbeaten in conference play in more than a decade. Vanderspiegel’s decision to dive headlong into coaching was paying off.
“Once you’ve found that perfect position or that perfect job, you’re just more willing to give it all you’ve got, and she really grew into it,” Riddiough said.
Following the 2010 season, Vanderspiegel was named head coach at Georgia Southern, which had just finished last in the Southern Conference the previous two seasons. Vanderspiegel overhauled the roster and started laying new foundation.
“We did what needed to be done,” Vanderspiegel says. “There were some great cornerstones to the program in place, some juniors or seniors, who we used for leadership and to really build upon.”
The 2011 season produced noticeable change. Georgia Southern, which hadn’t won more than five matches since 2006, finished 7-11-2 and placed seventh in the SoCon. It was the Eagles’ highest league finish in five years. Georgia Southern also upset second-seeded UNC Greensboro in the conference tournament, the school’s first SoCon Tournament victory since Vanderspiegel was running background checks in Norfolk.
“When I arrived, they were 12th out of 12 the last two years, and we had nowhere to go but up,” she said. “That first year, it was a big stride in the right direction.”
If the 2011 season was a step in the right direction, 2012 was a seismic shift. The Eagles finished 10-8-5, their first winning campaign since 2002. Seeded eighth in the Southern Conference Tournament, Vanderspiegel’s team staged a Cinderella run, including a quarterfinal upset of top-seeded UNC Greensboro, to its first league championship. In the championship match, the Eagles toppled third-seeded Furman 5-4 on penalty kicks.
A photo from the moments following the shootout shows Georgia Southern players dogpiled in celebration near the goal box. Beside them, standing with her right arm raised skyward, is an overjoyed Vanderspiegel. You rarely get that type of emotion from a 9-to-5 job.
In just two seasons, Vanderspiegel and Dunleavy were able to reverse Georgia Southern’s decade-long losing curse.
“I certainly had high expectations for myself and the program,” Vanderspiegel says. “There’s so much parity in the SoCon, I knew if we were able to recruit the right student-athletes in that 2012 class, I knew that we could compete with anybody in that league, and that’s basically what happened.”
“She made players more disciplined and more accountable and gave the program more of a hardworking mentality and wanted the players to buy into what it takes to win,” says Dunleavy. “She really installed a complete change of culture.”
A RISING STAR
At VCU, Vanderspiegel won’t have to rebuild. The Rams are coming off a pair of conference runner-up finishes. Instead of a revival, she’ll be asked to lead VCU to the next level. The Rams haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2005, something Vanderspiegel will look to change.
Key to her firm belief that the Rams are ready for the next step is the infrastructure of the athletic department. In the 90s, the old campaign slogan was, “It takes a village to raise a child.” A college athletics department can be like that village.
“The days of VCU being a mid-major are in the past,” Vanderspiegel says. “It’s certainly an up-and-coming university and athletics department. That’s exciting, to be a part of something that’s on the rise, as opposed to something that’s plateaued or is declining. We’ll compete in a great soccer conference. The tradition is good, and has been good for years, and I think the sky is the limit with what we can accomplish within the women’s soccer program.”
Expect the Rams to mirror the personality of their coach. Vanderspiegel says she favors an aggressive, attacking 4-3-3 system. She says the Rams will look for force teams into mistakes on their third of the field and convert those miscues into scoring chances.
“We believe in a system of play that creates opportunities,” she says.
It’s a system not unlike the one Vanderspiegel used six years ago to launch a coaching career. She saw a problem, she attacked it and created an opportunity. It worked then, and those who know Vanderspiegel say it’ll work again.
“I always go back to the intelligence aspect,” Riddiough said. “She’s really quick learner. She’s on the fast track. She’s got everything an athletic department is looking for. She’s young. She’s energetic. She’s a great role model.”
“She’s a go-getter,” says Dunleavy. “She’s very, very intense, very passionate. She wants to win, and she wants people to be with her that have that same exact mindset as well.”
This feature appears in the fall edition of the Ram Report, coming soon. For previous editions of the Ram Report, visit this page.