Haigh signs experienced Altherr to coach Cats

Maureen Cullinan

The search is over. The Northwestern women’s soccer team has found its new assistant coach: Jennie Altherr.

Altherr boasts an impressive track record evidenced by her recent success at Mississippi State. During her stay as an assistant coach with the Bulldogs, the program made an 8 1/2 game improvement – from 4-16-0 in 1999, to 8-11-1 in 2000 and finally to 13-8-0 last fall.

But her soccer experience did not begin at Mississippi State. Altherr, a 1991 North Carolina grad, played for the Tar Heels’ 1987 national championship team.

After graduation, she became the assistant coach for the ’73 Raleigh Spartans, a Capital Area Soccer League organization in North Carolina, in August 1990. She then spent five years with the ’78 Spartans, leading the team to its 1995 state club championship as well as the prestigious 1994 Washington Area Girls Soccer League title.

Her first head coaching job came in 1996 when she was hired at St. Mary’s College and High School. She managed both the college and varsity prep programs.

Following this job, Altherr became head coach for first the ’84 and then the ’85 Spartan Red teams. Under her reign, the ’85 team won both the 1999 Charlotte Labor Day and the 1999 Raleigh Shootout tournaments.

These successes made Altherr appealing to NU head coach Jenny Haigh when the two met at a coaching course in July 1999. Since their meeting, Haigh has always known she wanted Altherr on her staff.

“If she ever got a head coaching gig, she wanted me to be her assistant,” Altherr said.

With the departure of assistant coach Erin Hussey in May, Haigh finally had an opportunity to offer Altherr an assistant coach position.

“When (Hussey) left I was nervous, but I never got stressed or worried,” Haigh said. “The first person on my list was Jennie. When I called her and she was interested, I was like ‘Really? Really?'”

Not only did Altherr’s acceptance of the position ease Haigh’s mind about finding a replacement, but also Haigh was happy that the NU women’s soccer program would have an experienced and knowledgeable coach.

Haigh cited Altherr’s experience with other teams as well as her “amazing track record” at Mississippi State as just two of the reasons Altherr will be invaluable to women’s soccer at NU.

“It’s about what we need as a staff to benefit,” Haigh said.

Altherr believes she will be an asset to the women’s soccer program. Besides having an extensive knowledge of the game, Altherr also believes she can reach out to her players.

“I have a knack of being able to connect with players very well,” she said.

Altherr recognizes the differences between each athlete and treats each like a unique person – partly the reason for her ability to bond with them.

Haigh has always wanted Altherr in her program, but simply offering someone a job is not a guarantee that they’ll accept the position. As far as Wildcats soccer is concerned, Altherr’s interest was not a problem since she believes in Haigh’s coaching style.

“The girls have really responded to her formation,” Altherr said.

Not only have Haigh’s coaching methods convinced Altherr to come to NU, but also the new assistant is excited to be a part of the Big Ten. In addition, she was attracted by NU’s academic reputation.

“It’s a good package,” Altherr said.

She will have her first opportunity to make her mark on NU soccer when training begins next month. Although Altherr was only hired two-and-a-half weeks ago and has only been in Evanston a few days, she already has goals for the fall.

“First, have a winning season,” she said.

But Altherr’s goals don’t stop there. Both she and Haigh have their sights set on something higher.

“NCAAs,” both coaches said in unison.