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Knutson readies for next challenge

Raider girls' soccer coach Allie Knutson puts her team through its paces before last Tuesday's regional semifinal game against Superior. Knutson will leave Hudson next week to spend the next 27 months in Mongolia with the Peace Corps.

Allie Knutson stepped up when her old team needed her. Now she's preparing to travel halfway around the world to help kids who need her even more.

Knutson, a 2004 graduate of Hudson High School and four-year letter winner with the Raider girls' soccer team, took over the head coaching reins at her alma mater when the team's previous coach, Josh Pettit, abruptly resigned in the first week of the season.

Knutson has led the Raiders to a 14-5-1 record and a regional championship up to this point. The team is two games away from qualifying for the WIAA State Soccer Tournament for the first time since 2001, when Knutson was a freshman varsity player. But if the Raiders make it to Milwaukee next weekend, she won't be there to see it.

Knutson will leave Thursday, June 11, for a 27-month stint in the Peace Corps. She'll be heading to Mongolia, where she will use the degree she earned in elementary education at UW-Green Bay to teach English as a foreign language to students in grades 4-11.

The 23-year-old Knutson, who was already the girls' junior varsity coach, knew when she agreed to coach the varsity back in early April there was a possibility she would be called to service before the season ended.

"When the season started I knew I would be leaving, but I did not know if it would be as soon as May or as late as August," she said. "When I initially started the season though, everything was fine because the JV season ends about mid-May, so there was no conflict there. So when I switched to coaching varsity I just sat down with the AD and discussed that there was the possibility that I would have to leave before the season ended."

Knutson, who also coached the Raider boys' junior varsity last fall, found out in mid-May she would be leaving June 11. After discussing the matter with head boys' coach Chuck Bublitz and athletic director Stephanie DeVos, Bublitz agreed to coach the girls' team should it make it to the state tournament.

"It really worked out perfectly, seeing how the girls know Bublitz because he is a teacher at the high school," Knutson said. "He has helped out with training before, and they all get along really well with him. It would have been a tough decision for me to make, I think, if it would have been someone taking over after me that I did not know or trust, but I have 110% confidence in Bublitz, and I think it would be fair to say the girls do as well."

Knutson, who went on to play college soccer after high school at UW-Green Bay, said she started to think about the Peace Corps after studying abroad in Italy as a college student.

"I knew I wanted to do something before going right into looking for my first teaching job, because I figure once I do that I will be set in that spot for a little while at least," she said. "Studying abroad for a month in Italy in college definitely opened my eyes to the fact that this is a big world we live in, and there is so much more I want to see and learn about. The Peace Corps seemed like a great way for me to do this, because through them I can actually do what I want to do, which is teach, and I can also see a totally new part of the world and learn things about the world, myself, another culture, et cetera, that I could never do by staying in Hudson."

In addition to her degree in elementary education, Knutson also has minors in psychology and art. She will spend the first three months in Mongolia in pre-service training, learning the language and culture and preparing for her two-year assignment.

"I will be working in a school and working alongside Mongolian English teachers. So part of my role will be to teach the students, and another part will be to work with the Mongolian English teachers," she said. "Then the Peace Corps always has you take on secondary projects, and those can vary a lot and are very self-driven, I believe. So who knows, maybe I can start a soccer club or camp!"

She said she's currently reading, 'Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World,' in an attempt to learn more about Mongolian history. She's also researching what it will be like to live in a ger (yurt).

"A ger is like 20 feet in diameter and is a basically a round hut, covered in tarp with my fire-stove thing in the middle," she said. "I am going to need to become pretty resourceful, I think. But I have also read though that the Mongolian people are very, very nice and welcoming, and the landscape is beautiful. Mongolia is known as 'The Land of the Blue Sky,' so it sounds like a wonderful place to go. Overall I am very, very excited, and just a little bit nervous."

Knutson said she has thoroughly enjoyed coaching the Raider girls' this spring, even when referees would sometimes mistake her for a player. She said the closeness in age between her and her players provided both benefits and challenges.

"It is beneficial in the sense that I can relate to the girls' different struggles and experiences," she said. "It's interesting to try to find that balance of being the adult-coach figure and being the 23 year-old that I am, who can relate to a lot of where these girls are at with things, because I'm right around their age."

She said she's not concerned about how the team will get along without her.

"If they make it to state I don't think they will let the fact that I'm not there bother them too much," she said. "I mean they're at state, they're happy!

"Of course it will be tough to know that my team is at state and I am not able to be there and support them and just watch the amazing games they will play in," she added. "Knowing they are in good hands though, and just that they made it and how hard they have worked all season to get there is enough for me. And somehow I will find out how they did from Mongolia!"

As for after the Peace Corps, Knutson said she's keeping her options open.

"I will likely find a teaching job somewhere," she said. "Then again, who knows, the Peace Corps may open a ton of doors to other things, so it is hard for me to say exactly what I will do after my service. Though I think it is fair to say I will probably continue doing something where I can work with kids on a daily basis; that is what I love."

Bob Burrows
Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.
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