YARMOUTH — When a longtime coach leaves a program, often the team left behind is not a contender. That may be one reason for moving on.

But when Rich Smith resigned as the Yarmouth High girls’ soccer coach last year, he said goodbye with the cupboard quite full. Smith, who coached the Clippers since they started a program 30 years ago, walked away from a talented team.

The only question concerned the new guy replacing Smith.

Would he mess it up?

Look at the Class B soccer pairings for your answer. Yarmouth (13-1-1) is the top seed in the South. The Clippers continue their quest Saturday, at home for a regional semifinal against fourth-seeded Cape Elizabeth (10-5-2). Yarmouth swept the season series against the Capers, 5-1 and 3-0.

The Clippers are looking strong under first-year coach Josh Thornton.

“(Smith) primed this program for so much success,” Thornton said. A coach leaving “usually means he knows there’s no (talent) coming through.

“But the quality here is fantastic and the seniors are strong. They would have had just as much success if I wasn’t here.”

His humility aside, Thornton’s job wasn’t easy. When you’re rebuilding a program, expectations are low. Thornton, 29, had to walk in with a talented team and add his style to an established program.

“He made it an easy transition, which made it easier on us girls, which is super awesome,” said junior Sara D’Appolonia, one of the team’s top scorers.

“Josh knows a lot about the game. When he came in, having this younger mentality, he was able to relate with us. It’s added to the program.”

D’Appolonia played for Thornton before, with Global Premier Soccer-Maine. Thornton is the technical director.

Thornton is a native of England where “like any typical English person, I love this sport. But when I was 17 I realized I wasn’t going to make it (playing) professionally.

“I began to conjure up a plan to stay as close to the sport as possible.”

Thornton studied to be a teacher with the idea of always coaching. He began coaching teams when he was a teenager. A friend of his was running a soccer program in Michigan, spoke highly of American soccer, and Thornton soon joined him.

That was a part-time job. When a full-time opportunity opened at GPS-Maine, Thornton arrived. Besides his GPS duties, Thornton became head coach at North Yarmouth Academy three years ago.

“It’s a lovely school and the girls were great, but it’s small,” Thornton said. “I knew some of the girls from premier (at Yarmouth) and when the opportunity opened up, I jumped at it.”

For the seniors, especially, it was strange to see someone other than Smith in charge.

“We knew it would be different,” senior Katie Clemmer said. “Rich Smith did an amazing job. Our chemistry was good.

“But it’s been a good transition, a great adjustment. (Thornton) added more technical stuff and new drills and formations … our team is ready for the playoffs.”

Yarmouth beat Gray-New Gloucester 3-0 in the quarterfinals Wednesday. If the Clippers get by Cape Elizabeth, they will meet second-seeded Gorham or third-ranked York in the South final. York is the only team to not lose to Yarmouth, tying 1-1 on Sept. 10 and beating the Clippers on Oct. 15 in York.

“They’re a good team,” Thornton said. “They gave us a great game here and another great game down there. Our girls realized they are not unbeatable. They need to know that going into the playoffs.

“Hopefully York will get to the final, and hopefully we’ll do the same and seek some revenge.”

But first there’s Cape Elizabeth to deal with. Yarmouth is favored. The new guy has his talented team ready to go.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 10:25 a.m. on Oct. 28 to correct the spelling of Rich Smith’s name in the secondary headline.