For years, the Noble High field hockey team has been an easy mark for opposing teams in the SMAA.

The Knights haven’t made the playoffs since 2007  and haven’t had a winning season since 2003. They have won just 19 games in 12 full seasons since 2007, with no more than three in any single season.

This year, things should be different. With a strong returning group from the team that went 3-0-1 in last fall’s pandemic-abbreviated season, Noble could be one of the surprise teams in Class A South.

“I just feel really lucky to have kids who are super invested in the program in general,” said Josie Chadbourne, who is in her fourth year as Noble’s head coach. “It’s hard to get motivated when you have a program that’s not successful. You’ve got to start with someone who is going to push it forward. And we have that.”

Chadbourne notes that last fall’s success was important. Two of the wins came against Thornton Academy and Marshwood, both established programs, and the tie came against Sanford, with its long history of field hockey success.

“It was a pretty big deal to give Sanford a serious run for the money,” she said. “It creates a presence and gives the kids a confidence that been lacking over time. I believe when kids experience losing over and over again it becomes the expected thing. To shift that mindset to expecting to win and expecting success, it takes time. And last year started that.”

Senior back Alyssa Shibles said it has been gratifying to see the growth of the program. She noted that more players are involved with club teams now and playing the sport year-round and that the youth program, started by Chadbourne several years ago, is finally contributing fundamentally skilled players.

Alyssa Shibles, entering her fourth year as a varsity player for the Noble High field hockey team, says the program has been helped by having more players involved with club teams now and playing the sport year-round. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

“I have to say it’s absolutely amazing,” said Shibles, a four-year varsity player. “Honestly there’s no other program I’d want to be a part of because of the growth we’ve had to go through, individually and as a team. You can feel the team bonding more and more every year.

“And I think it’s everything, from the coaching to the players to our dedication to the sport. We have a lot of girls who play club now. And our mindset has changed from, ‘Oh, we’re just playing field hockey’ to, now, we’re willing to work for it. It’s awesome.”

Senior forward Carrie Grace, another four-year varsity player, said the wins may not have come in recent years, but the effort was always strong. “There’s always been a lot of heart and strength,” she said. “It’s nice to see (the wins) are finally showing up.”

Chadbourne said the biggest difference might be that players are now devoting themselves to the sport year-round. That improves individual skills and tends to make the team better overall.

“This is a group that just loves to play field hockey,” she said. “In the past, kids were not as invested in it. But the love of field hockey is infectious, so now everyone is getting into it, taking care of each other, looking out for each other.

“All it takes is a couple of kids who love field hockey. And you put them together with kids who love being on a team and it starts growing.”

Noble Coach Josie Chadbourne speaks with her team in between games at the SMAA Field Hockey Play Day last week at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Maddy Romano, a senior midfielder, transferred to Noble from Sanford. Now that she’s on the Knights, she realizes her previous impression may have been wrong.

“Before I didn’t see anything special, now I realize the program is a lot stronger than I thought,” she said. “The girls are inclusive, the coach never lets anyone feel down … I’m just going out there and trying to have fun. I’m glad I got this opportunity.”

In the recent SMAA Play Day, the Knights went 2-1 in three games, losing only to highly regarded Kennebunk, 1-0. Their passing was sharp, they moved the ball well and they defended well.

“I think they’re becoming a very good program,” said Lori Smith, the coach at Thornton Academy. “I think they’re going to contend.”

Ah, the playoffs.

This year, because the pandemic is ongoing, the Maine Principals’ Association will hold an open tournament for field hockey. Everyone will make them.

“I’ll be honest, I was sad when I heard that it was going to be open playoffs and everyone makes it,” said Chadbourne. “This was it, this was the year we were going up in the Heal points and were going to make a statement and make the playoffs on our own.

“So it’s a little funny that everyone will make it now. But the girls are motivated and excited to make things happen.”

That they are. The goal now is to finish as high as possible in the standings.

“I feel this year is definitely our moment,” said Grace. “We’re going to keep competing hard and go far in the playoffs.”

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