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Opportunity comes early for Cav coach

April Heinrichs thought she'd have an offseason.

When rumors surfaced in November that she might leave her spot coaching the Virginia women's soccer team for a chance to serve as the head coach of the U.S. women's national team, Heinrichs shrugged off the suggestion.

It wasn't that Heinrichs lacked aspirations of coaching the reigning World Cup champions. After wrapping up her playing career nine years ago, she chased the dual dreams of coaching a collegiate national champion and coaching the U.S. team. She just never anticipated she would achieve the latter before she had exhausted herself pursuing the former.

As the coach of the U.S. Under-16 team, Heinrichs became an almost automatic candidate for the job vacated when U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco stepped down Nov. 3. Few observers considered her a serious contender and Heinrichs herself told The Cavalier Daily she would remain at Virginia. But she went through the interview process, hoping to make enough of an impression upon U.S. Soccer Federation officials that they would remember her the next time they were looking for a coach.

Heinrichs must have made quite an impression. Tuesday, she was introduced in New York as the Technical Director of the U.S. team, a title that carries the added responsibility of overseeing the three junior national teams.

Coaching the best women's soccer team in the world has long been a goal of Heinrichs', but she said she hates to leave the Cavalier program she transformed during her four years in Charlottesville. She said she was looking forward to molding the young Virginia talent and will miss not getting to coach the excellent seven-player recruiting class she lined up for next season.

"That's the first thing [Virginia Athletic Director] Terry Holland said when it came out, 'Aw, and you've got such a great recruiting class coming in,'" Heinrichs recalled.

Heinrichs said she expects all seven players to honor the commitment they made to the Cavs, though a few may wait until the new coach is hired before inking their binding letters of intent.

It remains unclear who Heinrichs' replacement will be, but there should be plenty of qualified applicants.

"It's one of the best jobs to open up in five years or so," Heinrichs said. "There have been other good schools with good programs, but it doesn't get much better than the University of Virginia in Charlottesville in Klöckner Stadium, with the team we have coming back and the recruiting class we have coming in."

The new coach will inherit a program that has taken a huge step forward under Heinrichs.

"The caliber of soccer here has changed so much," said fifth-year forward Jill Maxwell, who played her rookie season under Lauren Gregg, Heinrichs' predecessor. "She's done a great job. Everyone's going to miss her."

Yet when asked to assess her tenure in Charlottesville, Heinrichs focused not on the achievements of her teams, but on the impact she had on the young women she coached, hoping that she gave them "a sunny day in the game of soccer.

"You may work until you feel like you're going to pass out," Heinrichs said. "But you love it.

"At least that's what I would say," she added with a smile. "You'd have to ask" the players.

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