Take a young team, add injuries and position changes, run it through a tough schedule and you get what the North St. Paul girls’ soccer team faces this season.
Yet a 1-4 nonconference record to start didn’t melt the Polars’ smile. Captains are keeping their teammates focused on converting hard lessons learned into Metro East Conference success. Players in new positions are building confidence and younger players are impressing.
“Everyone is staying positive because we know there are more rewarding games to come,” sophomore goalkeeper Lily Pfefferle said.
Pfefferle personifies North St. Paul’s spirit. New to soccer last year, Pfefferle saw action in just three games with the “C” squad. But she worked her way into contention for a starting varsity role this season.
“I was always interested in the sport,” she said. “But I had no idea I wanted to be a goalie.”
Playing other positions convinced Pfefferle the pipes were calling.
“I’m a mess on the field,” she said. “My feet don’t connect with my head.”
Summer workouts built her into a solid player. Pfefferle’s first varsity start was a 4-0 victory against Irondale to open the season. Two games later, she suffered a 6-0 loss against two-time defending Class 2A state champion Eagan. Beaten, yes, but not broken.
“Those rough nonconference games are going to help us in conference games against teams like Mahtomedi and Tartan,” she said. “It was like last year. I got scored on a lot, but I was still passionate about soccer.”
Senior defender Abby Schouvieller knows Pfefferle’s challenges. A forward or midfielder her entire career, Schouvieller dropped back to defense this season.
“In tryouts coach joked about it, but I didn’t think she was serious,” Schouvieller said, referring to Katie Oelkerk. “She was.”
At 5-10, she fit the job description as a taller player willing to play tough and win the ball.
“I was very nervous for the first game, but I surprised myself when I did OK,” Schouvieller said. “I thought, ‘Maybe I can do this.’ ”
The attitude has been infectious. Senior forward Lauryn Smith has watched a trio of younger players blossom on the pitch. Freshman forward Bridget VanDanacker, she said, “works really hard for the ball” while sophomore midfielder Macreena Stueve impresses with “good technical skills.” Sophomore forward Cassidy Wolf plays with “determination, ball control and good decisionmaking” beyond her years.
The next wave of players will be key to the Polars’ success because Smith will miss the rest of the season because of a knee injury.
North St. Paul must learn to play without its returning leader in goals scored and its most aggressive player. Since getting injured in the Eagan game, Smith has watched fellow senior Madi Brenhofer step up.
“She’s our most aggressive player, next to me,” Smith said. “She’s a great leader. She’s been playing well all over the field.”
While watching teammates struggle with three shutout losses in the first five games, Smith has preached patience.
“We just need to learn how to play together a little more,” she said. “Once we get into a rhythm, we can be more successful in conference games. We’re really striving to win the conference championship. We think we can get there if we keep working hard.”