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Prep girls hockey: A head coach who's called to serve

River Lakes girls hockey coach Alexis Klatt is also an active member of the National Guard

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Alexis Klatt (left corner) takes a team photo with the River Lakes 2020-21 team, the first to make it to the state tournament.
Photo courtesy of Alexis Klatt
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Alexis Klatt is not an ordinary coach. The head girls hockey coach at River Lakes balances her time teaching the game she loves while serving her beloved country.

For the past two seasons, the 26-year-old has balanced head coaching duties while being a member of the National Guard, a task that is difficult yet rewarding.

“It’s a lot,” Klatt said. “They both require a lot of commitment. Sometimes there’s a struggle between where you need to be and who needs you more.”

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River Lakes varisty girls hocke head coach, Alexis Klatt (left) at Officer Candidate School graduation. Klatt has graduated and is now a lieutenant.
Photo courtesy of Alexis Klatt

History in the challenge

Klatt, known for her outgoing personality and strong leadership qualities, has been able to build and maintain a positive relationship with her team while in service.

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“It’s all about relationships and the people around you, making sure that you communicate well and communicate your needs and do your part so that when you do ask for something, it’s not a big ask and people are wanting to help you out,” she said.

Klatt joined the National Guard in September of 2019 while being in her second season as an assistant coach for the Stars.

“I joined the guard basically to be part of a team again, An active part of a team,” she said.

One year later, Klatt became the head coach.

The promotion made the task of balancing hockey and her service more difficult. Kyle Curran, an assistant coach for the Stars, became the interim head coach while Klatt was in service.

Curran continues to be the assistant head coach.

“When she got the call to get activated into the National Guard that was a difficult time for her,” Curran said. “She knew she wanted to be with the team but she also wanted to be there for what she was being called into.

“I just told her, ‘Give me some of your things that you want to see the team continue to do as we move forward and we’ll make sure that we progress in that direction,’” he added.

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Despite the coaching transition, the Stars finished 13-6-2 last March and advanced to the Class A-Section 6 championship to battle the Willmar Cardinals after defeating Fergus Falls 4-1.

Prior to the matchup against the Cardinals, Klatt had one of the toughest obstacles to maneuver, having to potentially miss the game due to service.

“I was actually supposed to be at drill (in Little Falls),” she said. “So I went and I did drill for the first part of that weekend and I completed all of my duties. I was in communication with my leadership and they let me leave early so I could go be at that game. And then I made up my time elsewhere.”

River Falls went on to defeat Willmar 3-2 to win the section championship and made its first state tournament appearance in program history.

The Stars lost at state to Gentry Academy 4-1.

The achievement left a significant impact on Klatt and the Stars.

“I think the top accomplishment so far would probably be last year’s hockey season overall,” she said. “It proved to myself that I have formed those positive relationships where my leadership is willing to work with me on the work side, to help me be where I need to be for hockey.

“And it’s shown that even though I’m not always able to be present at hockey, I have an amazing coach around and behind me that can pick up the slack when I’m gone and the girls still respect and listen to them as they would me,” she added.

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River Lakes head coach girls hockey coach Alexis Klatt (left) is at officer candidate school at land navigation.
Photo courtesy of Alexis Klatt

The challenge increases

This season River Lakes is 13-9 and on a four-game winning streak. The streak started with a 6-0 win on the road against Bemidji. River Lakes defeated Detroit Lakes 14-0 on Saturday.

Klatt has had to miss more games and practices this season due to service.

“It’s definitely had its ups and downs,” Klatt said in regards to the current season. “But I think we’re getting back on that uphill climb. We had a couple rough games but I think we’re starting to figure out our weaknesses and how to get around them.”

When it comes to a set schedule, things may not always go as planned for the young coach.

“Right now, it’s sort of last minute,” Klatt said. “So. I don’t always know where I'm going to be.”

When on drill, she went to Camp Ripley. While she may be home most nights, sometimes missions may require her to travel to places where hotel stays are required.

Klatt believes her National Guard service helps her when it comes to being a head coach.

“I think it gives them another way to look up to me,” she said. “I guess it adds another level to my leadership. I think I have gained a lot of leadership skills through the guard. So I think a lot of my coaching traits have come from that.”

Curran says Klatt is always with the team, even when she can’t be physically.

“The girls adore her; she is a great coach,” Curran said. “She is personable with them and she knows how to communicate really well with each individual girl. That’s really one thing that we’ve really enjoyed.

“The girls have just maintained that positive atmosphere and positive attitudes. They work together and they’re unified as a team,” he added. “They’re playing for their goals. (Alexis) has them all set their goals at the beginning of the season. They have individual goals and then they have team goals that they all came up with together. They’re playing for each other and playing to reach their goals and achievements that they have set together as a team.”

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River Lakes head coach Alexis Klatt (left) poses with her sister, ninth-grade defensemen Abby Steffens.
Photo courtesy of Alexis Klatt

Coaching a sibling

Aside from balancing being a head coach and in the National Guard, Klatt also balances being a sibling. Her step-sister, ninth-grade defenseman Abbey Steffens, is on the team.

“It’s really fun,” Klatt said. “We have a pretty big age gap, So a lot of the time that we’ve spent together has been on the ice. That’s like our biggest bonding moments that we have. It’s really cool to be able to spend this time with her and watch her grow as a player and as a person.”

Just like a parent coaching a child, the two siblings have built a working relationship on the ice.

“I guess I don’t really see it different than like it would be with any other coach,” Steffens said.

Klatt added, “It’s really cool that we both know the separation between family and when I have to be coach instead of sister, which isn’t always fun. But it’s really cool to be able to see her grow and watch her form friendships and new skills.”

As with balancing coaching and service, communication has been the biggest key to the sibling’s chemistry on the ice.

“We have a really good relationship,” Klatt said “Our relationship started out positively before I was her coach. So we already had a good foundation to build on. But we just communicate and we each have pretty fair expectations of each other.”

Despite having a series of things to balance on-and-off the ice, the young coach continues to ice shred the challenge and reach her goals.

“Make sure you set fair expectations for yourself,” she said. “Don’t expect yourself to do the impossible because then you’re always going to end up disappointed. Set fair expectations and set a plan. Dedicate the time that you need to what needs it.”

Matthew Curry is a sports reporter and photographer for the West Central Tribune.
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