When Laura Gaworecki was deciding where she wanted to play collegiate soccer two years ago, she met plenty of coaches. She ultimately chose to come east from her hometown of Houston to play for April Heinrichs and the Cavaliers, but Stanford Coach Steve Swanson made a great impression as well.
"He's a great guy," Gaworecki said. Stanford "ended up not being one of my top programs, but there was a lot of mutual respect [between Swanson and I]. It's a shame [Stanford] wasn't higher up on my list."
Swanson was scheduled to arrive in town yesterday and get right to work, with a team meeting planned for today. He inherits a Cavalier team that finished with a 13-9 record and a No. 16 national ranking in the fall. The Cavs, who advanced to the third round of the NCAA Tournament, return a solid core of talent and will add one of the nation's best recruiting classes. Swanson said he cannot wait to get started.
"They're obviously tested in terms of playing a tough schedule," Swanson said. "I'm excited. There's nothing better for an athlete and a team than accomplishing something that's never been done before. We want to build on the program already in place here and make our own history here."
Swanson has a history of taking his teams to the proverbial next level. He led the Cardinal to three NCAA Tourney bids in his four-year tenure and compiled a 49-28-4 record, including a 15-5-1 mark and a No. 7 national ranking last season. Stanford's postseason win over Cal Poly in November was its first since 1993. Before coaching the Cardinal, Swanson built Dartmouth into a national power during his six years as coach.
With all he accomplished at Stanford and the strong ties he forged with his players, the decision to leave Palo Alto was extremely difficult for Swanson. He said the California lifestyle was not conducive to the way he and his wife Julie, both Michigan natives, want to raise their three children and added that the high cost of living on the west coast was a factor as well.
"There was the family side of it, plus the opportunity to coach at a school of the academic and athletic caliber of Virginia doesn't come along too often," Swanson said.
Swanson got his introduction to Charlottesville and Klöckner Stadium when Stanford lost 3-2 to Virginia in the Coca-Cola Classic tournament Sept. 24.
"I remember seeing the moon coming up at the stadium and thinking, 'My God, that's beautiful,'" Swanson recalled.
Less than five months later, he and his wife received a more thorough tour of the area, courtesy of Virginia Senior Associate Director of Athletics Craig Littlepage.
"The Charlottesville community is a special place," Swanson said. "I found that out when I was there in the fall with the team and then when my wife and I came again a few weeks ago."
The players Swanson finds in Charlottesville will not be completely unfamiliar to him. He recruited several Cavaliers while at Stanford, including Gaworecki and third-year center mid Katie Tracy.
Those Cavs are some of the few players who could resist a Swanson recruiting pitch. Before jumping to Virginia, Swanson lined up what has been labeled the best recruiting class in the nation for Stanford next season. One of his first tasks as Cavalier coach has been assuaging the fears of the seven recruits who verbally committed to play for Heinrichs.
"April's a strong personality and a coach is a big influence in those decisions," Swanson said. "It makes [recruits] anxious when a coach leaves."
The new Cav recruits are not the only ones with questions about Swanson. The current Virginia players are curious to learn their new coach's philosophy on fitness and preferred style of play, among other things. Swanson said he would reserve judgment until he gets to know the team.
The players do not know what to expect.
"There are always questions when you get a new coach," Gaworecki said. "It's kind of nerve-wracking because we have to prove ourselves all over again."