Sept. 12, 2007
by Michael Collins, Baylor Athletic Media Relations
Twenty-five minutes into Baylor soccer's season opener against Louisiana-Lafayette, the Ragin' Cajuns Chelsea Balestra booted a rather harmless shot from 25-yards out that floated into the hands of Bears goalie Ashley Noah at the line.
A rather insignificant shot that almost any goalie at any level would have stopped. Other than the fact the save by Noah brought her to within 62 saves of the Big 12 Conference record held by former Baylor great Dawn Greathouse for saves in a career, it's barely even worth a mention.
However, for those who follow the Baylor soccer program, the sight of Noah at the line protecting the net has become the lasting imagine of the team over the past three years.
Always making the routine save, the 6-1 senior out of Roseville, Calif., has made the amazing routine as well. Throughout her three-year career, Noah has made a name for herself my doing the spectacular.
Her ability to track down almost any ball led to the senior being named first-team All-Big 12 Conference at goal last season, the first, first-team selection for the Bears since former goalie Dawn Greathouse earned the honor in 2000.
"Without a doubt, Ashley (Noah) has single-handedly won us some games," head coach George Van Linder said. "She does some things out there that simply make you shake your head in amazement. She is definitely a special player."
One who has been climbing up the Baylor record books since her arrival. Through just three years, Noah has climbed into the top two in nearly every category, trailing only Greathouse in a number of career marks.
In fact, Noah broke a Baylor record in her first career match. Playing against eventual national champion Notre Dame, Noah made 15 saves to break the Baylor single game record for most saves in a match.
"I would have to say that was my most memorable match," Noah said. "It was trial by fire. Notre Dame was obviously a very talented team; and, it was just shot-after-shot."
Although Noah did not stop every shot during the Baylor loss, she stopped most of them, and the sight of her protecting the net is a big reason the squad believes 2007 will be the breakout year for the soccer program.
After reaching the Big 12 Conference post-season championship for the first time in five years last season, Noah and the Bears believe the pieces are in place for a solid run this season.
A large reason for the optimism is the team unity that was formed during the Bears pre-season workouts. For the first time since Van Linder was coach, Noah and the rest of the Baylor squad was completely shut-out from the rest of society as Van Linder had the team stay at Camp Hope for the first week of practice.
Located outside of Waco, Camp Hope offered little in the ways of comfort. No television, no radio, no cell phones and no iPods, players were only allowed to keep a couple of pairs of shorts, shirts, socks and enough toiletries to get through the week.
Although it sounds like a miserable existence, Noah and the rest of the squad believe it could be the defining moment for a program looking to get back on top.
"As a team, I think Camp Hope brought us all closer together on and off the field," Noah said. "We depended on each other in everything we did from the moment we woke up to the moment we went to bed. I think it's really going to help in the long run."
Noah's performance in games will also go a long way into determining how successful the Bears are in 2007, a responsibility she is excited and willing to take.
"My whole focus when I am out there is to try and make my teammates better," Noah said. "If I can do a good job of communicating with them and telling them where to position themselves during an offensive attack, then they will make me look better."
Of course, it does not hurt to have a little ritual on your side as well to ease the nerves before the start of the match. And, like any other good keeper, Noah has those as well.
"I think any soccer player has some sort of ritual or superstition. My ritual before every game just happens to be that I drink an energy drink, and eat a small amount of chocolate," the senior said with a laugh. "Before games, I have to warm up on the left side of the goal and the warm up has to be in the same routine."
Although Noah and the Bears look to take the next step this season and qualify for the NCAA Soccer Championship, the senior keeper took the biggest step of her life in the off-season. The former Ashley Holder, Noah married Chris Noah in July 2007.
"Knowing I can come home after a hard practice or game and my husband will be there supporting me no matter what the outcome may be is a great feeling to have," Noah said. "Not only do I want to make my coaches and team-mates proud of me; but, him as well. He's my biggest fan."
Being the only married player of the team does have its drawbacks as it leads to some ribbing from teammates; however, Noah says her teammates have been extremely supportive.
"There are little jokes here and there with some of my best friends on the team, but that's how we are," the senior said. "Other than that, everyone is extremely supportive and understanding. For the most part, I leave my married life at home. When it's practice or game time, soccer is the only thing anyone thinks about anyways, especially myself."
That kind of focus has Noah and the Bears dreaming about what may come this season.
"I imagine my career ending with a winning record, doing well in the Big 12 post-season championship and ultimately making it into the NCAA Soccer Championship," Noah said. "As a team, I believe this year is the year our program will rise to the top and that these goals can and will be accomplished."
And with the best goalie in the Big 12 Conference protecting the net, anything can happen.