The Knights, with rare success outside wrestling, are building a winner.
Asked how the Noble High boys’ soccer team was viewed statewide when he took over as coach in 2011, Matt Foster provides an anecdote.
“I heard stories that coaches and teams would bring a lot of their younger guys and not even play their starters against us,” Foster said. “That was the attitude.”
But after finishing 11-2-1 last year, good for second-place in the SMAA regular season standings, and after winning a plyaoff game for the second straight season, Foster knows one thing for certain.
“You can’t bring your (junior varsity) squad anymore to play against Noble,” he said.
Now comes an even tougher challenge: maintaining an expectation of annual competitiveness at a school with no soccer tradition and limited success in any sport besides wrestling.
“Noble sports across the board doesn’t have a rich history,” said Foster, a Dexter native. “The wrestlers tend to just wrestle. I had a lot of basketball and baseball players, and they really had a history of losing and that’s what they were used to.”
Foster said he was fortunate to take over the program when he did. The towns of Berwick, North Berwick and Lebanon had each worked to establish youth soccer programs that were bearing fruit. A travel team with players culled from the Noble district was formed.
Most of all, Foster said, last year’s seniors – seven started – “had it in their minds when they came in that they were going to change things.”
“I think it was that travel soccer that made the difference,” said senior Josh Emard, an All-State forward.
“We played U-10s all the way through. As U-12s we won states. I’m not sure what division it was but we weren’t used to losing.”
Noble won five games in 2011, then posted an 8-6 record, finished as the 11th seed and upset South Portland in 2012. It was believed to be Noble’s first playoff win in soccer.
Last season the Knights avenged one of their two regular-season losses by beating Cheverus in the quarterfinals before being eliminated by Portland.
“I feel we’re always wanting to push ourselves,” said senior midfielder Brandon Ford. “As the years have progressed we’ve achieved a higher goal each year and we want to reach the next higher goal.”
Foster and his players feel it will be difficult to match the win total from last year. The graduation losses are significant.
“We were 11 really solid players last year,” senior striker Bailey McKenna said. “To replace seven? It’s hard to replace seven, your goalie, your whole defense.”
Also, teams will – or at least should – be taking Noble more seriously.
That’s what Foster expects, though Emard wonders at times whether the general perception of Noble soccer has really changed that much.
As a club player Emard has gotten to know many of the state’s top players.
“They all would say they played their worst game of the year against us and no one really knew that much about Noble soccer,” Emard said.
It will probably take multiple 10-win seasons and trips to the Class A semifinal round before Noble can truly tout that it has a soccer “program.”
For that to happen the Knights will have to continue to work around limiting factors connected to Noble’s geographic location.
Some students have a 45-minute drive just to get to school. There are no indoor practice facilities within a half-hour of the school.
“We don’t have a lot of soccer specialists, not that I necessarily think that’s a bad thing,” Foster said.
Recognizing that few of his players will come to the program with a driving passion for soccer like Emard, his current star, possesses, Foster said he realized early on his practices had to strike a balance.
“One thing we’ve done really well, we’re able to be disciplined and work really hard, and accomplish things but at the same time it’s still a lot of fun,” Foster said. “We’ve been able to do both, succeed and have fun, and I hope that dynamic is here to stay.”