Former San Benito Star Vandenberg to Take Soccer Talents to
Fresno State
Rose Vandenberg is chasing her dream.

And, as is the case in so many of those pursuits, her dream is taking her to a place she never would have dreamed of just a short time ago. Fresno State University.

After just one season at UCLA, Vandenberg, a former standout soccer player at San Benito, has decided that her quest for excellence on the field and happiness off it will be better realized by transferring to Fresno State.

“I’m very excited about the possibilities of what could come,” said Vandenberg, who will enroll at her new school immediately and join the Bulldogs in time for spring practice. “I just feel like it’s a better fit for me as a person. I have a lot more opportunities there to shine than I did at UCLA.”

While a number of factors beyond soccer contributed to her decision to transfer, Vandenberg made the decision with the knowledge that Fresno State offered her one simple thing that UCLA could not-the chance to make an impact.

Despite being a member of the premier women’s programs in the nation-UCLA has played in the Final Four the past three seasons and finished as national runner-up the last two-Vandenberg came to realize that she wanted more out of her collegiate experience. After playing in just one of UCLA’s 26 games as a freshman, Vandenberg knew she needed to take a hard look at her future as a Bruin.

“I want to play,” said Vandenberg, who set a Central Coast Section record with 56 goals as a sophomore at San Benito. “I want to have my part in that day’s win or loss. [Bruins head coach Jillian Ellis] just didn’t see me getting significant playing time in the next three years. I want to have a part in owning the wins and losses and I can’t just sit and ride the winning train when I’m not taking any part in the winning.”

The Hopeful Underdog

When she committed to UCLA as a junior at San Benito, Vandenberg knew she would be a part of a star-studded recruiting class and would join one of the nation’s elite teams. But she still thought that her hard work would earn her the chance to play.

“I knew I was going in as an underdog,” recounted Vandenberg. “I knew I wasn’t the top player they were bringing in. I expected to have to work twice as hard as any other player to make my way. But I thought at the same time … that maybe [Ellis] would be looking at us on the basis of how we were playing on that day and on the field throughout the week to make her decisions for playing time.”

One of ten talented freshmen, Vandenberg pushed herself in practice, hoping that her perseverance would pay off as the season unfolded.

She had some encouraging early results, including winning the coveted yellow jersey following an early-season practice. Ellis, inspired by Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France feats, offered the carrot of a yellow jersey to the most valuable player of each practice.

Vandenberg spoke of her emotions upon landing the honor.

“I was really excited,” recalled Vandenberg, who earned 1st Team All League honors in all four of her years at San Benito. “Not many of us freshmen [got it], so it was a cool thing. I didn’t think it would happen this year.”

And once Vandenberg got her first game action, in UCLA’s eighth contest, she was hopeful that more opportunities would be right behind.

“When I heard [Ellis] call my name, I was so excited,” said Vandenberg, “just to get in and play and prove myself. It was really fun for me to have the opportunity to show what I have. I think I played pretty well, but obviously [since we won 4-0], we were all playing pretty well.”

The Practice Player

But then, when game after game went by without hearing her name called again, the unfortunate reality began to set in for Vandenberg.

“My role was more as a support player, a practice player,” said Vandenberg. “I was there to help build the team and help the team, but I was not the starter or the star by any means. I wasn’t the impact player … and that’s what I wanted to be.”

Vandenberg spoke of her mentality and motivation in adjusting to this foreign role.

“Even though I’m not making an impact in the game, I’m helping [my teammates] get better when I’m working hard during practice,” said Vandenberg. “I’m helping the team win in that sense. I have to give them competition in practice so they can compete on game day. That was the one contribution I could give, so I wanted to give that.”

As the season progressed, some doubts started to creep into her head as she grappled with being confined to the bench for the first time in her career.

“When you don’t get validated as a player by [receiving] playing time, then you obviously feel like there’s something missing or something’s wrong,” said Vandenberg. “Each of us [freshmen not playing] had our own doubts and our own struggles throughout not getting playing time and everything, and we’d talk about it. It was hard for all of us, but we all had each other to get through it.”

With only three UCLA freshmen receiving regular playing time in a system that seemed to reward those with national experience, Vandenberg spoke of how she and her bench-ridden teammates dealt with their inactivity.

“‘It’s a privilege to be on the team,'” Vandenberg said they would tell each other. “It’s not a failure to not be playing because it’s a privilege to be there. We’ve already earned and stated something by being on the team. It’s just constantly reminding yourself that you’re not horrible because you’re not playing.”

The Final Four Experience

Even while struggling to adapt to her situation as an individual, Vandenberg took comfort in the success of the team as a whole. After losing its fifth game of the season, UCLA went on an incredible run, powering its way to a 20-game unbeaten streak and a date with Portland in the national championship game.

After defeating their first five opponents in the NCAA Tournament by a combined score of 25-0, the Bruins entered the title game with supreme confidence. But, as fate would have it, Portland won 4-0, leaving Vandenberg and her teammates to wonder what happened.

“After the game, everybody was just in shock because everyone was so confident that we could win, that this was the year that was ours,” recalled Vandenberg. “We had momentum. We knew that we could take this. It was definitely a shock.”

Nevertheless, Vandenberg called the Final Four experience the highlight of her time at UCLA.

“It was awesome,” said Vandenberg. “That for me was like a dream come true. Just being able to experience that, feel the energy, just be there and know that, even though I’m not going to be playing on this field … that I am a part of it. It was just an awesome experience.”

Fresno Bound

Despite all the frustrations with her lot as a Bruin, Vandenberg said making the decision to leave UCLA was not an easy one.

“It would probably be easier to sit there and just go with the accolades that come with UCLA, as far as being a part of the team and everything that they have achieved,” said Vandenberg. “That’s something that was hard for me to give up because it is a title in itself. I’m on UCLA’s team. But at the same time, I feel like I’ll have a lot more impact if I go to Fresno and making them into that hopefully one day.”

Once Vandenberg realized that her love of the game was gradually becoming compromised, she knew it was time to move on.

“My passion for the game is in the struggle for the game,” said Vandenberg, who also considered transferring to San Jose State, University of the Pacific and Cal Poly. “You can practice, practice, practice all you want, [but] if you don’t get to play and have the struggle it kind of demolishes the passion. I know going to Fresno, it’ll increase my passion.”

Mike Schurig, who coached Vandenberg for four years at San Benito, believes she is entering the perfect situation.

“She’ll get to show what she can do on the field,” said Schurig, who is also Vandenberg’s uncle. “We’re going to see her do a lot of good things, especially in terms of game performance and leadership on the team. She’s going to get to play and contribute and have a lot of fun doing it.”

The Next Step

Just weeks away from joining her new teammates, Vandenberg spoke of being at peace with where she came from and where she is headed.

“I know it all happens for a reason,” said Vandenberg. “Coming out, I probably wouldn’t have even looked at Fresno. It just opens my eyes to what’s really important to me in life and what I wanted from my experiences. [UCLA] helped me grow up and know what I wanted. I think it was a good experience and it was awesome to be a part of that. I’m never going to look back and have a regret.

“What I went through this year was hard … but I know this is the path God is taking me through and I needed to get there to make the decision that I’m making now to go to Fresno. I think, ultimately, that’s where I’m meant to be.”

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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