Jennifer Haigh made a mark as a three-sport standout at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul. In May, she will be recognized for those accomplishments when she is inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame.
Haigh, who went on to be a soccer standout at the University of Wisconsin and then a successful Division I women’s soccer coach, died April 14 at her home in St. Paul after a long struggle with chordoma, a rare bone cancer. She was 45.
Her former high school teammate Amy Bellus, now an assistant principal at Cretin-Derham Hall, said it is a disservice to remember only her athletic skills when talking about Haigh.
“It’s not doing her justice just focusing on her athletic abilities,” Bellus said. “She was a good athlete. She was a much better person.”
Bellus said Haigh, whose cancer was diagnosed in 2009, had been “very excited” about the Hall of Fame honor and had hoped to be at the ceremony.
Haigh played soccer, basketball and softball for Cretin-Derham Hall. In fall 1990, following her senior soccer season, in which she had scored 27 goals in just 16 games, she was named to the Star Tribune’s first-team All-Metro girls soccer team. In her four varsity seasons, she scored 99 goals and was also named to the Minnesota State High School Soccer Coaches Association’s All-State team as a junior and senior.
At Wisconsin, she was a four-year letter winner for the Badgers. She was voted the Badgers’ Most Improved player in 1992 and 1994 and was a team captain in 1995. The Badgers played in the NCAA tournament four times during her playing career and reached the national championship game in 1991.
She also excelled in the classroom at Wisconsin, making the dean’s list and earning Academic All-Big Ten and Academic All-District honors twice.
“Even in high school, she was thoughtful and curious,” Bellus said. “It served her well.”
After graduating from Wisconsin, she played professional soccer in Sweden for one year before embarking on a coaching career. She spent three seasons as an assistant women’s soccer coach at Arizona State and one season as an assistant at Missouri before becoming the head coach at Northwestern in 2000. At 27, she was the youngest coach in Division I women’s soccer. She was the Wildcats coach for five seasons before resigning in 2006.
Northwestern Associate Director of Athletic Training Services Danielle Colegrove, women’s soccer trainer when Haigh was coach, said she stood out because of “the respect she had for her team in holding them accountable. She was tough and demanding, but patient and encouraging.”
She also stood out for her smile, which “was so beautiful and big, it encircled those she encountered,” Colegrove said.
Bellus said Haigh’s illness “limited her a lot, physically. She had spinal fusion surgery. It was a very painful type of cancer, and she lost mobility.
“That being said, her athletic, fighting spirit got her through it,” Bellus added. “She continued to do what she could and helped her family and friends get through it. She was wonderful and inspirational. The reason she was so special was she was a good friend to everybody. She was a kind, generous soul. She had tenacity and spunk.”
Despite the limitations, Haigh had continued to work for her mother’s design company.
Haigh is survived by her wife, Aileen Guiney, whom she met at Northwestern; a son, Billy Cantor, and a daughter, Tallulah; her parents, Richard and Patty Haigh; a brother, Steve, and a sister, Angie. Services have been held.