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John’s Journal: Oh Baby, What A Season For St. Charles Girls Soccer

From Chaos in August To First State Tournament Appearance In October

Posted: Saturday, October 22, 2022 - 5:47 PM


In this St. Charles/Lewiston-Altura team photo, coach Taige Puetz is on the right (holding her son Slater) and coach Amelia Crouley is on the left (in stocking cap).


Justin, Taige, Sarah and Slater Puetz.

The head coach’s baby was coming, the plan was in place and everything looked to be good for the girls soccer team from St. Charles/Lewiston-Altura. And then, of course, everything went sideways.

That’s how the story began. How it’s ending is a perfect capper to a strange, challenging, unforgettable season as the Saints will play in the state tournament for the first time in history this week.

The unseeded Saints (13-2-2) will meet third-seeded St. Paul Academy and Summit School (9-5-3) in the Class 1A state quarterfinals Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Eden Prairie High School. The winner will advance to the state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium on Nov. 2.

For St. Charles/Lewiston-Altura, the star of the team wasn’t even born when practice started on Aug. 15. Second-year head coach Taige Puetz was due to give birth a few days later, and she and junior varsity coach Jarett Schiebel had put together a plan in which Taige would miss the first week of practice before returning. But things changed when Taige’s doctor said they needed to induce delivery early. When that process took longer than planned, her son Slater was born via Cesarean section in Rochester on Aug. 16.

 “I underestimated the recovery from a C section but I was still determined to get back,” Puetz said. When Slater was brought home from the hospital, his big sister Sarah, 11, and dad Justin were elated. The soccer team visited the coach’s family and everyone was thrilled. A week after delivering Slater, Taige watched from a lawn chair when the team scrimmaged Winona Cotter as the Aug. 25 season opener vs. Lake City approached.

Then came another twist when Taige’s doctor called and said tests showed that Slater may have cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that can cause problems with breathing and digestion. The diagnosis was confirmed and Slater’s care team at the Mayo Clinic jumped into action. “They took us under their wing immediately,” Taige said.

With the first game of the season that same night, the coach sent a text to the players, saying she might not be herself. “They were so great in supporting me without overwhelming me,” she said.

Now, however, the situation was really complicated. The head coach, still recovering from surgery, with a baby that needed more than the usual newborn care, and plenty to focus on for her and her family outside of soccer. Oh, and then Taige found out that her surgical incision was infected. Another trip to the hospital ensued. It was chaos as the season loomed.

Taige had been sending email updates to her colleagues at school, including one teacher who is a former head girls soccer coach for the Saints. When Amelia Crouley realized how dire the situation was, she texted Taige, “What can I do? Do you need me to step in and coach?”

Crouley had coached the Saints for seven seasons, beginning in 2011. She stepped down because she had young kids and her husband was in graduate school. “It was too much for our family,” she said.

Puetz and athletic director Scott McCready discussed the situation. “Scott asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ I said I need to take a little time, I need to heal, and the girls need stability.”

Taige was happy when Amelia stepped up.

“We’ve been trying to get her involved. She coached the program before, she’s great with the girls, she’s super knowledgeable.”

As a formality, Taige resigned as head coach and Amelia took on the role. Taige went to practice and told the girls that she was resigning but not actually resigning, and that Amelia would take over until she was ready to come back.

“A few tears were shed,” Taige recalled. “Amelia went right into practice, she’s intense, and I kind of smiled and said to Jarett, ‘They’re in good hands.’ ”

The Saints won nine of their first 10 games, including a 1-0 victory over rival Dover-Eyota. Their losses came against Pine Island/Zumbrota-Mazeppa 3-2 in the second game of the season, and to Winona Cotter 3-1 late in the season. They played late-season draws with Dover-Eyota and Rochester Lourdes (which won the 1A Section 2 title).

St. Charles/Lewiston-Altura made history by winning the Section 1 title with victories over La Crescent-Hokah and Winona Cotter, locking up the program’s first trip to state.

Taige wasn’t totally absent for very long. But the chance to stay home and focus on Slater and her own health was important.

“Even after two or three days I felt great,” she said. “We were in a good spot with Slater and his care team at Mayo. There are lots of treatments. We knew we could handle this.”

Taige and Amelia, listed as co-head coaches, have strong soccer backgrounds. Puetz was a member of the first girls soccer team at St. Charles when she was a seventh-grader and she went on to play at St. Cloud State. Crouley played soccer at Winona State.

“To have soccer knowledge and do it together was awesome,” Taige said. “Whenever we had to make game adjustment, we'd look at each other, say the idea and it was, ‘Oh my gosh, I was just thinking about that.’

“Amelia has truly become an extremely good friend of mine. I've never had more fun coaching in my life and it's because of how much fun we have together and respect each other.”

Indeed, the season could not have gone much better.

“We get along extremely well and have so much respect for each other,” Amelia said. “We work really well together, we each have different strengths. Taige brings an added dimension of fun. I don’t think the girls understand how lucky they are.”

Puetz said, “I’m so thankful for Amelia and Jarett. It was super challenging to stay home as a mom and hold it together with everything going on. The girls were so great. There were times at home when I was feeling down and out, and they sent me super nice texts. For them to go out of their way to do that was so great. I’m super proud of everything they’ve accomplished.”

Expectations for the team were high going into the season, with an experienced group of players returning.

“I knew this team was special,” Puetz said. “(A state berth) was not guaranteed, but we knew they had the potential to do great things this year.”

Crouley was impressed with the team immediately.

“The first game I saw the girls play I was like, ‘Whoa, this could be a really be fun season,’ ” she said. “I knew we had the most talented players we’ve had in a long time.”

Has it been magical? It’s hard to argue.

“Taige and Amelia have worked together like magic,” said McCready. “It's really amazing in my mind just how all of this has worked out based on the total chaos for about 10 days in August.”

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected]  

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