Sandy Paulsen did not want to be the Hickman girls’ soccer coach in 1988.
With two years’ experience coaching the sport at a junior high school, she thought an assistant coaching position suited her better.
“I didn’t feel, at that time, I knew enough to be a head coach,” Paulsen said.
Because she was the only applicant, Paulsen was picked to lead the program in its first season.
Paulsen said she and assistant coach Chris Gamble, who was the softball coach, did the best they could with their limited experience in the first few years.
“We were like the blind leading the blind at first,” Paulsen said.
Today, after coaching the Kewpies to five district and three sectional championships in 16 years, Paulsen will lead Hickman for the last time in a regular-season game when it faces Hazelwood West at 5 p.m. at Cosmopolitan Park.
Paulsen will retire from coaching and teaching at Hickman after this school year and move to Raleigh, N.C., where her son, Jed, is a senior center on the North Carolina State football team. Paulsen’s husband, Joe, moved to Raleigh to be near their son after retiring from his assistant principal job at Hickman last year.
“It’s time to get the family back together,” Paulsen said.
For the record
Paulsen is 185-86-35 in 16 seasons at Hickman and was named central region coach of the year in 2002 and large school coach of the year in 2003. The Kewpies are 15-3-1.
Ashley Turner, a senior defender for the Kewpies, said Hickman soccer won’t be the same without Paulsen.
“Coming back and watching the games next year and not having her be there, it’s just going to be weird,” Turner said.
Paulsen grew up in St. Louis playing sports such as basketball and field hockey, but not soccer. She did not become involved in the sport until 1977, when she was a teacher at Ritenour Junior High and the school tried to start a program.
“There wasn’t anyone around who was interested in taking it on,” Paulsen said.
Paulsen coached at Ritenour for two years and attended clinics to learn soccer strategy. She said her experience in other sports helped her as well.
“It’s not like I came in with nothing,” Paulsen said.
Learning to succeed
Paulsen continued to learn in her first two years at Hickman, going 10-15-6.
After that, the Kewpies enjoyed six winning seasons in a row. That period included a third-place finish in the state in 1994 and consecutive sectional championships from 1994-96.
Becky Paulsen, an assistant coach at Saint Francis University in Pennsylvania, said her mother’s demanding style has helped make her successful.
“She doesn’t settle,” Becky Paulsen said. “She expects the best out of everyone.”
Turner said Paulsen’s ability to be demanding while being someone the players like is what makes her such a good coach.“She just has a really good balance,” Turner said.
Payge Pleimann, a junior defender for Hickman, said Paulsen’s teaching experience might be responsible for this.
“She understands high school kids because she’s around them all day,” Pleimann said. “She knows when we’re paying attention, how to treat us.”
Paulsen said her relationship with her players has been the highlight of her career.
“Every year, it kind of molds into a family,” Paulsen said.
Becky Paulsen said this type of rapport is part of what kept her mother from retiring in previous years.
“She kept saying, ‘This is my last year, this is my last year,’” Becky Paulsen said. “But, when it came down to it, she was having too much fun with the girls.”
Paulsen said leaving her players, especially the juniors, will be hard.
“I almost feel like I’m abandoning them,” Paulsen said.
Paulsen said she has been told the school hopes to hire a coach before the end of the school year.
Pleimann said she is disappointed Paulsen will not be the coach for her senior year.
“At our senior banquet, we’ll have a different coach who has only known us for a year,” Pleimann said. “It just won’t be as emotional.”
Becky Paulsen said this is the right time for Paulsen to leave, though.
“I think it’s time for my mom to have a break,” she said.
Paulsen is looking forward to being with Jed Paulsen for his senior season and might be able to attend some of Becky Paulsen’s games, also.
Paulsen said she has not seen her daughter since Christmas, but they talk often. Paulsen said they talk coaching sometimes, such as earlier in the season when the Kewpies were having problems scoring.
“I’d say, ‘Beck, do you have any drills for this or do you know something for this?’” Paulsen said.
Becky Paulsen said this is a far cry from the level of advice her mother allowed when she coached her at Hickman from 1994-97.
“I just remember when I would talk, she made me run,” Becky Paulsen said.
Becky Paulsen said the opportunity to see her and her brother’s games might offer her mother a competitive outlet to make up for not coaching.
“She gets really into the games,” Becky Paulsen said.
Paulsen said she will watch these games as closely as the ones she coached.
“It’s just how coaches are,” Paulsen said. “You dissect everything.”