Team Effort: Husband, Wife Combine Talent To Coach Soccer
Dec. 12, 2000
By SAMIE OMOROGIEVA
They share the same household, have the same job descriptions and raise the same children.
The only thing that distinguishes this couple is the gender of the team they coach at the University of Maryland in College Park.
Above all, they work down the hallway from each other and that, to many soccer enthusiasts around the county, makes their situation unique.
On the campus, Sasho Cirovski and Shannon Higgins-Cirovski are known as the first family of soccer. That is the exact situation they found themselves in after the announcement in January 1999 when Shannon Higgins-Cirovski joined her husband as the head coach of the women's soccer team.
Cirovski has been the men's soccer coach for eight years prior to his wife's hiring, and has turned the Terrapins' program around with a consistent appearance in the NCAA tournament that was topped by a semifinal appearance two seasons ago.
Higgins-Cirovski became the women's coach after a successful eight-year tenure at George Washington University in Washington.
As husband and wife, the College Park couple became the second married couple to coach a NCAA Division I team at the same school. The other known couple is at the University of North Carolina in Asheville.
With a men's team that already has been resuscitated from ashes to a national powerhouse, Maryland lured Higgins-Cirovski to College Park to do the same thing her husband has achieved with the men's team.
The mission statement was to bring back soccer prestige, glory and recognition to a program that appeared to be on a downward trend.
Maryland Athletic Director Deborah Yow noted in a press release the reasons why Higgins-Cirovski was hired to coach at the school.
"Shannon is a proven winner at all levels of the game, she is widely respected in the collegiate and international levels," according to Yow's statement.
It is Yow's belief that Higgins-Cirovski is the best candidate to take the Terps back to the promised land - a consistent appearance in the NCAA tournament and an eventual championship.
The Terps love to dominate and play frequently in the national scene. And that's why the combination of Higgins-Cirovski and Cirovski is a unique fit for the school's soccer program, according to Yow.
Yow's hiring of Cirovski to join her husband paid off with a postseason appearance last year, but a devastating early season injury to top recruit Jen Biscoe, a graduate of John Carroll High School in Baltimore, was costly.
Biscoe's injury and the inconsistent play of the team early on helped snap Cirovski's string of postseason NCAA tournament appearances at eight, the previous seven were at the George Washington University.
For a school that loves to be dominant in all programs and in the Atlantic Coast Conference that include powerhouse North Carolina University, of which Higgins-Cirovski is an alumna, Yow's investment suffered a double predicament with both the men's and women's team failing to qualify for the postseason.
With her husband's credential already established at College Park, Higgins-Cirovski had it all made as a player at UNC, where she was considered a field general and was a member of the U.S. national team where she played alongside Mia Hamm, who also was her college teammate.
For the couple, Cirovski once was quoted as saying they both have consummate respect for each other. They often solicit each other's opinion and on the short end, according to most soccer enthusiasts in the area, they are considered with the most famous cliche of "get one for two."
"We are not co-coaches on our respective teams, but we sure look like an extra assistant, and that is not to take away from our various assistant coaches," said Cirovski, father of two daughters - Hailey, 6, and Karli, 4.
When Higgins-Cirovski was named the Terps women's sixth head coach last year, the 1990 UNC industrial relations graduate said the only consultation she has with her husband relating to her team is solely on personalities or off-field dilemmas.
According to Higgins-Cirovski, who assisted on both of the U.S. team goals in a 2-1 win over Norway in the 1991 World Cup finals, the first for the United States, she and her husband understand the game but they do less discussion on the technical and tactical aspect of the game.
The couple entered into coaching the same year - 1991 - and both have enjoyed successes and seen predicaments while either rebuilding a program like Cirovski did at Hartford University in Connecticut and with Higgins-Cirovski at GWU.
If anything, the Cirovski's have the same goal in mind with their various responsibilities at College Park. The goal is for the Terps to win the national championship.
For the record, the women's best years in the NCAA postseason extravaganza were consecutive quarterfinal appearances in 1995 and '96 when they were eliminated by Portland and Notre Dame, respectively.
Despite disappointing 2000 seasons for the Cirovskis, they have learned that an aberration seldom occurs and learning from it is crucial.
The program, many say, will rebound. The talents on both teams abound with only four starters graduating on the women's squad, while the various injuries on the men's team saw them miss the postseason by probably one win.
The men will return top players, including freshman and leading scorer Abe Thompson of Fairfax Station, Va.
After all is said and done, according to Anson Dorrance who coached Hamm and Higgins-Cirovski at UNC, they are a special couple.
"She and her husband will do something special for Maryland and that tandem will have a tremendous repercussion for the university," Dorrance said.
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