By Karen Billing
After years of playing for the same team, two former Rancho Santa Fe Attack teammates found themselves facing off in the NCAA Division III Women’s Soccer Championships in San Antonio on Dec. 6.
Sarah Noble of Rancho Santa Fe, a starting center midfielder for Middlebury in Vermont, squared off against old RSF Attack and Bishop’s teammate Devan Osegueda of Encinitas, the starting goalie for Texas’ Trinity University.
The young women were four years removed from leading Bishop’s to victory in the Butch Lee Memorial Soccer Tournament at Cathedral Catholic and having gone on to play college soccer in different parts of the country, they never believed they would match up.
Trinity edged Middlebury 2-1 in the semi-final game, with Noble’s Panthers finishing third in NCAA rankings and Osegueda’s Tigers ranking second.
“To play in Texas for the Final Four was the coolest experience, it was a nice way to end my soccer career on a high note,” said Noble, on the phone at JFK International Airport in New York as she traveled home to California for the holidays. “Even though we lost it was such a special opportunity that I’ll remember always.”
Middlebury won the trip to San Antonio by finishing first in the New England Small College Athletic Conference (NESCAC) regular season, with Noble scoring in the semifinal 2-1 win and getting an assist on the goal to win the championship.
Middlebury then went through the first four rounds of the NCAA tournament with Noble scoring in the Sweet Sixteen victory over Misericordia and contributing solid defense to the team’s shutout over Johns Hopkins in the Elite 8.
A senior at Middlebury, Noble started playing soccer with Rancho Santa Fe Attack when she was about 6 years old. She and Osegueda were teammates from the age of 12 through high school, where they played together at Bishop’s. They were nicknamed the “Cool Combo” when they won that Butch Lee tournament when Noble was a senior and Osegueda a junior.
“I really liked being on a team, it’s one of my favorite things about the sport, the camaraderie,” Noble said. “At Bishop’s we were really close and I didn’t think a team could be any more like a family until I got to college. All of my college teammates are my best friends.”
When Noble was applying to colleges, her focus first was on academics, but she knew she would like to play soccer for her school as well. She was a walk-on on the Middlebury team and didn’t play much as a freshman and was injured for most of her sophomore year.
“I worked my way up to getting more playing time,” Noble said. “It was exciting to see all that hard work pay off.”
Working her way up from a walk-on to an every game starter was one of Noble’s proudest soccer accomplishments.
This year, no one had expected Middlebury to be at the top. The team had lost nine seniors and everyone thought it would be a rebuilding year with 11 freshmen coming aboard.
“We took it game by game and ended up coming in first in the regular season for NESCAC and got to host the whole NESCAC post season,” Noble said.
They earned an automatic bid to the NCAA’s where the underdog #13 ranked Middlebury reached the Final Four for the first time in school history with an Elite 8 win over Johns Hopkins in the last 17 seconds of the game.
The dramatic Johns Hopkins game was also a special challenge for a California girl as the game was played in 20-degree weather with a zero-degree wind chill factor.
“It was the worst weather I’ve ever played in. I was absolutely freezing and wore three shirts,” Noble said.
During the NCAA tournament, Noble kept an eye on Osegueda’s Tigers. Osegueda made critical saves for the Tigers to help the team win in penalty kicks over Illinois Wesleyan and in their 2-1 win over Wheaton College in the Elite 8 round.
It became clear the former teammates would meet in the Final Four.
“I never thought we would play each other so it was cool to see that happen,” Noble said.
Before the game, Noble and Osegueda had the opportunity to meet up with the various activities the NCAA has teams do before the game, including banquets and community service projects where the team painted benches and goalposts in a local park and played with Special Olympics athletes.
In the semi-final game, Noble said it was definitely weird playing with her friend on an opposing team, but said Osegueda played “awesome” for Trinity who went on to fall to William Smith in the finals.
The Dec. 6 game was Noble’s last hurrah for soccer and it was admittedly very sad. An economics major, she will graduate in the spring and is already looking for jobs.
“As of now I hope to enjoy the rest of my senior year as a non-athlete,” Noble said.
By “non-athlete” she just means soccer training — Noble won’t stay still for long. She has picked up long distance running and completed her first half-marathon last year. She plans to race another half-marathon in February in New Orleans.