When the GW women’s soccer team steps on the field for its first game next season, it will be without its head coach of the past seven seasons.
Coach Shannon Higgins-Cirovski resigned her position at GW last week to become the head coach of the United States under-18 women’s national team. Her assistant for the past three years, Michele Rodriguez-Smith, has been named the team’s interim coach for the 1998 season.
“You’re not usually asked to coach a national team twice,” Higgins-Cirovski said. “It was pretty tough to turn down.”
“It’s definitely a loss for us, but coaching the national team is a great opportunity for her,” said Kristin Robertson, a fifth-year senior who will return to the team this year after sitting out the 1997 season because of injury. “I’m very happy for her and so are the rest of the players, I think.”
Rodriguez-Smith takes over a GW team that went 13-6-2 in 1997, fell to Massachusetts in the Atlantic 10 final and narrowly missed making the NCAA Tournament for the second-straight year.
“I’m very excited to get my first opportunity coaching a Division I program,” Rodriguez-Smith said. “It should be an easy adjustment since I’ve been here for three years, so the players are as comfortable with the move as I am.”
While GW loses seven players from last season, including Chemar Smith, GW’s all-time leading scorer, the team returns 16 players and has four quality recruits entering the program.
“She’s been under Shannon and with the team for a while now, so I think she’ll do very well next year and it will be a good transition,” Roberston said.
GW’s new coach has been an assistant for both the University of Maryland women’s soccer program and the Anne Arundel Community College women’s soccer team. Rodriguez-Smith also has served as the head coach for the Maryland State Olympic Development Program for both the Under-17 and Under-19 women’s soccer teams since 1992.
For Higgins-Cirovski, who had been the head coach at GW since the 1991 season, the decision to leave was not cut and dry.
“It was definitely not an easy decision,” Higgins-Cirovski said. “I graduated from UNC (the University of North Carolina), and after that, George Washington has been all I’ve known. I’ve lived and breathed GW. I’ve really taken a lot of pride in the job and I’ve developed good relationships with the student athletes here.”
Higgins-Cirovski was a four-year starter for a UNC team that won four straight NCAA Championships and went 89-0-6 during her career. She then came to GW as an assistant coach before she took the head coaching reins in 1991. The decision to leave GW was more than a professional decision, though, according to Higgins-Cirovski.
“It was a good decision for my family,” said Higgins-Cirovski, who has two young daughters. “This job allows me to be on a different schedule than the one I was on while I coached here.”
Her new job will allow her to work out of her home and be with her children more in the fall, when her husband, Sasho Cirovski, is busy coaching the men’s soccer team at Maryland. As the under-18 coach, Higgins-Cirovski will work mostly in the summer, conduct four training camps, organize a domestic event and complete an international tour.
While GW is losing a quality coach, the national team is gaining one, according to Robertson and Rodriguez-Smith.
“If you’re going to work with anybody in women’s soccer, Shannon is one of the people you want to have an experience with,” Rodriguez-Smith said. “It’s not just her coaching ability and the Xs and Os, she’s also great with the player-coach relationships. We’re all very excited for her.”
Shannon Higgins-Cirovski at GW
-GW’s winningest women’s soccer coach, compiling a record of 69-59-11 during her seven seasons.
-A-10 Coach of the Year in 1994 and 1996.
-Coached GW to its first-ever NCAA Tournament in 1996.
-Led GW to 1995 A-10 West Division regular-season title.
-Spent one season as an assistant coach before becoming one of the nation’s youngest college coaches at age 22 in 1991.