Heinrichs, Terps on rise, but champ Heels first test WOMEN'S COLLEGE SOCCER

September 04, 1993|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Contributing Writer

April Heinrichs is on the brink of bringing her second women's soccer program into the national spotlight. The first came easy, and the second is still uncertain.

As a player for North Carolina, Heinrichs led the Tar Heels to three of their first four NCAA titles. North Carolina has lost only one game since her graduation in 1986.

As head coach at Maryland, Heinrichs guided the Terps to a team-record 11 wins last season, her second with the team. The Terps open this season at noon tomorrow against a formidable opponent -- the Tar Heels.

"Being a great player doesn't make a great coach," said Heinrichs, the only full-time head coach in the Maryland program's six-year history. "Playing came easily, but coaching is a greater challenge on a daily basis. It's different because as a player, you have to make yourself better. As a coach, you have to look out for the entire team."

Heinrichs finally separated her coaching and playing careers with her retirement from the latter on Aug. 1. She had competed internationally, including a stint as the captain of the 1991 World Cup champion U.S. team, after finishing her North Carolina career as the all-time NCAA scoring leader and two-time NCAA National Player of the Year. Heinrichs had been contemplating retirement for the past 1 1/2 years because of a chronic knee injury that has made walking up stairs difficult.

"It was the single biggest decision I had to make," she said. "I hope I won't feel like 'April, you waited too long.' I didn't want it to affect my ability to coach."

"It's an enormous and really an immeasurable loss," said North Carolina coach Anson Dorrance, who also coached Heinrichs on the U.S. team. "One of my regrets is that the world never saw her at her best. The world only saw her at 75 percent [at the World Cup in 1991 in China], which was still good enough to be the best player on our team. At 100 percent, she was the best player in the world."

The premier player in the world faced a monumental coaching task in 1991 when she inherited a Maryland squad that had a 27-43-5 record, no postseason experience and three head coaches during the first three years of the program.

Now, with nine of 11 starters returning -- including the Terps' first All-American, sophomore Kelly Amonte, and senior goalie Cailin Mullins, who set a team record with a .792 save percentage last season -- the Terps seem ready to gain national recognition.

But the Atlantic Coast Conference will be tough enough. The league began women's soccer seven years ago, and of the ACC's nine schools, only North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State, Virginia and Maryland field teams. With the exception of Maryland, every ACC team has competed in the national semifinals within the past four years, and North Carolina, Duke, N.C. State and Virginia are consistently ranked in the top 10.

For that reason, Heinrichs places breaking into the national rankings as the first goal and winning a conference game as the second objective. The Terps are unbeaten in their past nine nonconference games, but are winless in all 22 regular-season ACC contests.

The Terps' lone ACC home game this year is today against the seven-time defending national champions.

"We are better prepared now than any other season for our opener," Heinrichs said.

The Tar Heels are 32-1 in the NCAA tournament with 11 titles in 12 years and are 22-0-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference play. They have not lost in their past 62 games (61-0-1).

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