The future of the UC Irvine Women’s Soccer program was not looking very good after two straight losing seasons and the resignation of Head Coach Marine Cano. But on Dec. 19 the Women’s Soccer program received an early Christmas present that instantly made the future of UCI Women’s Soccer look very bright: they got a new coach.
But not just any coach; former U.S. Women’s National team Head Coach April Heinrichs. The same April Heinrichs that led the United States to silver and gold medals in back-to-back summer Olympiads in 2000 and 2004. The same April Heinrichs that was twice named National Player of the Year while at the University of North Carolina. The same April Heinrichs who was Soccer America’s player of the decade in the 1980’s for her performance in college and on the national team, where she earned 47 caps (appearances from 1986-1991). The same April Heinrichs who was the first woman inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame!
That’s right, a coach of Heinrichs’ stature is coming to UC Irvine. ‘UCI is one of the top-50 institutions, public or private, in the country. It’s located in the hotbed of women’s soccer in Southern California,’ Heinrichs said. ‘I knew I would very likely go back to the college game in the right situation and I think we have an opportunity to do special things at UCI.’
UCI is quite a distance from the East Coast where she has lived all her life, but she is welcoming the change. ‘I’ve lived on the East Coast since I was 19,’ she said. ‘I seem to do OK with change on a personal level. Some people have always liked to stay in their comfort zone, but I’ve never been that type of person.’
The fact that Heinrichs is willing to relocate 3,000 miles away from home is a testament to the dedication she has for building a strong women’s soccer program here at UCI.
Heinrichs’ goal is to make the team as competitive as possible as soon as possible, but she realizes that achieving success can’t always be put in a timetable.
‘When we start looking out at the conference level and say ‘OK, can we get into the top four of the conference level?’ I try not to throw a dart on the wall and say when we’re going to get there,’ Heinrichs said. ‘But I think if we can get in the top four in the conference level I think that’ll help us recruit in the state a little bit better. If we can do well in that, then we can compete head-to-head, toe-to-toe with some of the top programs in the country which happen to be in the same state we’re in. Then I think we can start talking about national championship, making the 64 [team NCAA tournament].’
Heinrichs brings experience coaching world class players, yet has demonstrated, through her past success coaching at the collegiate level, that she knows how to change her style and expectations to fit her current team.
‘I feel equipped to land on campus and help these players and this program from a myriad of slices of my experience,’ Heinrichs said. ‘UCI is similar to my first year [as coach] at Princeton. I went from being a national team player at the peak of my career to head coach at Princeton. I remember some of those players going, ‘You know we’re not the national team, right?’ So I feel a little bit like that might be going on here with some of these players, and I’m sensitive to that.
‘Having coached with the Women’s National team, you learn