The 2020-21 season is the sixth for head coach Darren Ambrose on West End, who has reinvigorated and reimagined a championship expectation of the Vanderbilt program since his first day on campus.
The ups and downs of the 2020 fall season reflected challenges the COVID-19 pandemic brought to the world, but Ambrose’s team battled through much adversity to achieve his championship vision in capturing the 2020 SEC Tournament title in dominating fashion.
After fighting through a 1-3 start to the season with three one-goal losses, Vanderbilt went on to win seven of its last eight games on the way to the SEC title, the first tournament title for the Commodore program since 1994. Scoring 11 goals in eight games during the regular season, Ambrose had his Commodores ready to roll in the tournament with the program netting 14 goals across four games against top SEC competition on the way to hoisting the trophy.
Vanderbilt’s 14 goals during the 2020 tournament set a new SEC record. Along the way, the Commodores defeated Mississippi State 4-0 in the second round before taking out top-15 programs in second-seeded Tennessee 4-2 in the quarterfinals, third-seeded Texas A&M 3-1 in the semifinals and top-seeded Arkansas 3-1 in the final. With the three wins against top-15 teams, it also marked the first time in Ambrose’s six years with the program the Commodores defeated nationally-ranked opponents in three consecutive games.
With the 2020 NCAA Soccer Championship moved to April and May of 2021, Vanderbilt has the SEC’s automatic berth thanks to the tournament title. With its ticket punched, it ensures a fourth straight NCAA Tournament bid to mark the second longest stretch of consecutive tournaments in program history.
As the 2020 fall season ended with another SEC trophy, the triumph was a result of momentum built in years past when Vanderbilt won the SEC East in 2019 and the SEC regular-season title in 2018.
In 2019, Ambrose led the Commodores to a 14-5-2 record and an SEC East title for the first time since 1997. The Commodores locked up the No. 2 seed at the SEC Championship and advanced to the semifinals before falling to eventual champion South Carolina. Vanderbilt earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season while falling to host Clemson in penalty kicks during the first-round matchup. The squad posted the third-most shutouts in program history (11) and in part to an impressive 8-2 home record.
The Commodores went 16-4-1 with an 8-1-1 record in conference play during the 2018 campaign to earn their third SEC regular season championship. It was the program’s first SEC title since 1994 and Ambrose was named SEC Coach of the Year for the team’s efforts. Vanderbilt earned its fourth straight SEC Championship appearance, receiving a bye as the No. 1 overall seed. The Dores would host the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2005 and defeated Murray State, 4-0. Haley Hopkins led the Commodores with 14 goals and seven assists, tallying 35 points on the season. She was named an All-American and also was the SEC Freshman of the Year.
The Dores went 13-7-2 in 2017, with their 13 victories being the most since 2005 season. With a 6-3-1 SEC record. Vandy advanced to the NCAA Tournament and upset Ohio State for the team’s first tournament win since 1998. Stephanie Amack led the Dores on the season with five goals, while Kaitlyn Fahrner played 16 games in goal and allowed 15 goals against 74 saves.
In his first season with the program, Ambrose led the Commodores to an SEC Championship appearance while notching their first winning season (9-8-4) since 2009. The team’s nine wins were the most in six years. Defense set the tone in 2015, as Vanderbilt posted six shutouts for the second straight year and allowed just 23 goals, the fewest since 2006.
Before joining the Vanderbilt program, Ambrose spent 15 seasons at Penn and departed as the Quaker’s all-time winningest coach (148-71-35 overall, 54-34-17 Ivy League). His teams reached the NCAA Tournament three times and won three Ivy League championships. Ambrose-led units finished in the top three of the Ivy League in 10 of his 15 seasons, including seven of his final eight.
Ambrose never had a losing campaign in his 15 years overseeing the program, as the Quakers averaged nearly 10 wins each season. He coached the team’s first two All-Americans, as well as the program’s first NSCAA Scholar All-America, CoSIDA Academic All-America of the Year, Ivy League Player of the Year, Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year and Ivy League Rookies of the Year. In addition, Ambrose was at the helm for all of Penn’s Ivy League championships (2001, 2007, 2010), three of its four NCAA Tournament berths (2001, 2007, 2010), and an ECAC title in 2000.
In 2010, Ambrose led Penn to its second outright Ivy League championship and third overall as the Quakers went to the NCAA Championship for the fourth time in program history, falling to Big Ten champion Penn State. The next year, the Quakers enjoyed a record-setting campaign, going 14-2-1 in 2011 to tie the program record for overall wins and break the mark for winning percentage. In addition, Penn allowed a school-record seven goals and led the nation in shutout percentage.
Ambrose spent three years as the women’s and men’s assistant coach at Rhodes (Tenn.) and was an integral part of the success of programs that had a combined record of 77-33-3, a Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference championship and three second-place finishes, as well as three NCAA Tournament appearances.
Ambrose began his coaching career at Rhodes as a graduate assistant for both programs from 1993-95. He then went to Connecticut to serve as the men’s assistant coach under legendary head coach Joe Morrone before returning to Rhodes in the fall of 1996.
Ambrose, who holds a United States Soccer Federation (USSF) “A” License and a National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) Advanced National Diploma, has also taken an active role in soccer education programs. He served as an instructor for the Tennessee State Soccer Association, and at Rhodes he taught USSF “E” and “D” license courses to Rhodes players who were beginning their coaching careers in the local community. He has been published in the Tennessee State Soccer Journal and in the English publication for “Entering the Field,” a sociological look at the growth of soccer in the United States. Ambrose is also an instructor for NSCAA goalkeeping courses.
Born near Sheffield, England, Ambrose played soccer with the youth programs of Sheffield United of the English League Championship and Doncaster Rovers of the English League first division. He also represented the English Schools Regional Team before coming to the U.S. for his college career at Division II national power USC-Spartanburg.
While in goal for the Rifles, Ambrose garnered some impressive honors, including Adidas National Player of the Year in 1992-93. He was also the first USC-Spartanburg player to be named GTE Academic All-America in 1992-93. In 2002, Ambrose was inducted into Spartanburg’s Hall of Fame.
Ambrose earned a B.S. in management accounting at USC-Spartanburg and in 1995 completed an M.Ed. in sports administration at Memphis.
Ambrose and his wife, Sherry, have two daughters: Madison and Ainsley.
Head Coaching Record
at Vanderbilt (six seasons): 69-37-10 (33-20-7 SEC)
at Penn (15 seasons): 148-71-35 (54-34-17 Ivy League)
Season (School): Overall, Conference (Conference Finish)
2000 (Penn): 10-8-1, 2-5-0 (6th)
2001 (Penn): 13-2-3, 5-1-1 (t-1st)
2002 (Penn): 8-6-3, 3-1-3 (3rd)
2003 (Penn): 9-5-3, 3-3-1 (4th)
2004 (Penn): 9-6-2, 4-2-1 (3rd)
2005 (Penn): 8-6-3, 2-3-2 (t-5th)
2006 (Penn): 8-5-3, 1-4-2 (7th)
2007 (Penn): 13-4-1, 6-1-0 (1st)
2008 (Penn): 8-6-3, 2-3-2 (5th)
2009 (Penn): 10-4-2, 4-3-0 (3rd)
2010 (Penn): 9-7-2, 4-1-2 (1st)
2011 (Penn): 14-2-1, 5-1-1 (2nd)
2012 (Penn): 9-6-1, 5-2-0 (3rd)
2013 (Penn): 12-1-4, 5-1-1 (2nd)
2014 (Penn): 8-5-3, 3-3-1 (t-3rd)
2015 (Vanderbilt): 9-8-4, 4-4-3 (7th)
2016 (Vanderbilt): 9-9-1, 5-5-1 (t-6th)
2017 (Vanderbilt): 13-7-2, 6-3-1 (t-4th)
2018 (Vanderbilt): 16-4-1, 8-1-1 (1st – SEC East)
2019 (Vanderbilt): 14-5-2, 6-3-1 (1st – SEC East)
2020 (Vanderbilt): 8-4-0, 4-4-0 (3rd – SEC East)