Terps' great unknown U.S. captain, star is just 'Coach' to her players

October 29, 1991|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Evening Sun Staff

COLLEGE PARK -- Mary Lou Retton. Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Cheryl Miller. April Heinrichs.

April Who?

The first three names are familiar even to the standard football-basketball-baseball fanatic who rarely notices women's athletics.

Heinrichs is another matter. She never had an Olympic platform to boost her profile and probably remains unknown even to some of her fellow employees in the University of Maryland athletic department, but she is one of the all-time greats in the young sport of women's soccer.

Heinrichs is completing her first season as the Terps' first full-time coach in the sport, and at the not-so-ripe-old age of 27, the dangerous striker is also the captain and oldest player on the U.S. team that will compete in the first FIFA-sponsored World Championship for Women's Soccer Nov. 16-30 in China.

"We don't want to just better the steps we've taken in the past, we want to win the World Cup," Heinrichs said. "We're not at the disadvantage the American men were. They were probably 100 years behind the rest of the world when soccer began to take off here. The women all started at the same time."

Heinrichs led North Carolina to three NCAA titles between 1983-86 and was named Player of the Decade for the 1980s by Soccer America magazine, but she hardly planned a career in the sport. Out of Heritage High School in Littleton, Colo., she headed to Mesa (Ariz.) Community College to play basketball.

"I played for a good club soccer team, and my high school was strong in the sport," Heinrichs said, "but back then Colorado wasn't recognized as a good soccer state and there just weren't many soccer scholarships out there. There weren't any national teams for women until I was a sophomore in college."

Heinrichs bemoans the lack of opportunities for women players following college. She played professionally one year in Italy before starting her coaching career. She spent the 1990 season at Princeton, and now the Maryland job brings her closer to the national team practices in Chapel Hill and the recruiting hotbeds surrounding Washington, D.C.

Maryland can only get better, since it has one win over an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent since going intercollegiate in 1988. If the Terps can win in the ACC, they can win anywhere: North Carolina was No. 1, Virginia No. 4 and North Carolina State No. 8 in last week's national rankings.

Today is homecoming in reverse for Heinrichs, as the Terps have a 3 p.m. match against North Carolina. During the last decade her alma mater has won nine national championships, and Tar Heels coach Anson Dorrance was the obvious choice to coach the national team. At least eight of his World Cup players will be current or former Tar Heels.

Dorrance sees the international stage as the quickest way for the women who will succeed Heinrichs as America's best to gain notoriety.

"I'm not pretentious enough to call soccer the national sport for women," Dorrance said, "but it has to be one of the more popular participant sports in the nation. The American people are very Olympics conscious, and in order for women's soccer to continue to grow, it has to get Olympic exposure.

"In order to qualify as an Olympic sport, we first have to have a world championship, and FIFA is seeing to that."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.