Six weeks into spring practice, most college soccer coaches have freed themselves of the anxieties of recruiting. But newly-installed Virginia women's coach Steve Swanson and his staff still are wooing a handful of high schoolers after the crown jewels in their incoming recruiting class bolted following the departure of former coach April Heinrichs.
Forward Alyssa Ramsey and defender Nandi Pryce, a pair of nationally-renowned talents, verbally committed to Heinrichs last year, but both changed their minds once she left Virginia in January to take the reins of the U.S. women's soccer program.
A month after Heinrichs' resignation, Swanson was hired away from Stanford. He took up the Cavalier recruiting cause, but Ramsey signed with North Carolina and Pryce chose UCLA.
Losing Ramsey and Pryce, the only two high school players invited by Heinrichs to train with the U.S. National Team this spring, would hurt any recruiting class. But Swanson maintained the blow is not a fatal one for the Cavs.
Swanson said he knew when he took the Cavalier job that the competition for Ramsey and Pryce was once again wide open, but he was at a disadvantage because of NCAA recruiting guidelines. In both cases, the Cavs had used all their allotted home recruiting visits, and Swanson could contact them by phone only. Pryce made another visit to Virginia - and also took a look at Carolina - but Swanson never talked to Ramsey in person.
"Here we were in a situation where they had verbally committed to Virginia, but as a new coach, I can't go down and meet with them," Swanson said. "Of course, the other schools can."
UCLA coach Jill Ellis said her friendship with Pryce dates back to their time together with the U.S. Under-21 National Team this summer. Ellis was an assistant coach under Heinrichs and Pryce was one of the youngest players on the team.
"Comfort level with a coach is very important to her," said Ellis, who was tabbed by Heinrichs in February to coach the Under-21s. "That's probably why she went to Virginia in the first place. I knew [Pryce might reconsider] when April left."
UNC coach Anson Dorrance said he cannot comment on Ramsey until she arrives in Chapel Hill in the fall. But Swanson, whom Heinrichs selected to coach the Under-18s, said both recruits based "a large, large percent" of their initial decision on Heinrichs. He said he thinks recruits should give a school's academics, campus and environment as much weight in the decision-making process as who the coach is.
"The relationship with a coach has got to be a factor, but no more so than the other things," Swanson said. "There's got to be more concrete things to hang your decision on than that, because coaches can leave for one reason or another."
NCAA regulations prevent Swanson from commenting individually on the five recruits still slated to arrive in Charlottesville in the fall, but he maintained the quintet forms an impressive group. Yet he expressed concern about the way future recruits might view Virginia after two of the most highly-recruited players in the nation changed their minds about joining the program.
"It was a decision that was based on their relationship with April," Swanson said. "So if April's not here, they don't want to come. That's fine. But people have a tendency to read more into it than that. That is what's more frustrating than anything about this."