When Staples sophomore goalie Noah Schwaeber took the field in the Wreckers' season opener against Danbury, the nerves he was feeling were justified. .
After all, Staples has a tradition of great goltending, and Schwaeber was replacing one of the Wreckers' best -- three-year starter and all-American James Hickock.
The 5-foot-10 Schwaeber has risen to the challenge, posting five shutouts in his first nine starts.
"We are very pleased with Noah," Staples coach Dan Woog said. "He has stepped into a pressure role with a great deal of maturity and confidence," Woog said. "The kids love him, his defenders love him, and to be able to have him as a three-year keeper, we are really excited."
Schwaeber started 2012 on the freshman team, where he played well enough to earn a call up. Freshman coach Chris O'Dell contacted Woog about Schwaeber training with the varsity team and Schwaeber made the most of his opportunity.
"We didn't know what our backup situation was going to be," Woog said. "We didn't know (Schwaeber); we brought him up to a couple of training sessions, and we liked what we saw. Gradually we brought him up and about halfway during the season he was our backup."
Training every day with Hickock was an educational experience for Schwaeber
"(Hickock) was big on repetition; doing everything until it was perfect," Schwaeber said. "He worked hard every single day and it inspired me to do the same."
A relative unknown 12 months ago, Schwaeber has risen to the top of the depth chart. He started playing at the U9 level and has been travel teams ever since.
"I always played (in goal) with my brother and sister growing up and they always played soccer," Schwaeber recalls. "We would have a goal in the back yard and they would just shoot on me. Ever since then, I've loved it."
Schwaeber played sparingly last season, including for a brief time in the Wreckers' 3-0 loss to Greenwich in the FCIAC quarterfinals after Hickock left with an injury.
This term, he has played all but 50 minutes, conceding seven goals in nine matches for the Wreckers (7-1-1). The one blemish on Schwaeber's -- and the Wreckers' -- record this season was a 3-2 upset loss at Harding. Despite controlling most of the game, mistakes doomed Staples.
"Harding was a wake-up call for sure; we didn't come in focused," Schwaeber said. "Now we know we have to come in focused every game."
"Staples Goalkeeping Nation"is a philosophy that is a large part of the identity the Wreckers have installed over the past half century. Since the program's inception in 1958, the primary focus has been on the defense, and the number of top-quality keepers the school has produced is staggering. This is as a result of the extra work goalies put in focusing on film study and becoming students of the game.
"There is pressure on (Schwaeber) because I put that pressure on him," goalkeeper coach Tom Henske said. "I make no bones about it; my job for these keepers is to make things so intense that by the time they get to the game, the game is not as stressful as training."
The benefits of such a program last far longer than the goalies' time in Westport. Many have gone on to have outstanding collegiate careers.
Graduates Shane Kennedy (1972), who set an NCAA record at Babson for career shutouts (41) was drafted by the New York Cosmos. Alex Deegan (1991) led Davidson to the NCAA final four as a sophomore. More recently, Mike McCarthy (2010) is at Washington University in St. Louis. Hickock is starting as a freshman for Dartmouth.
Schwaeber's strong start to his career, along with Staples' the long-standing soccer tradition, suggests he will be the next excellent keeper that comes out of "Goalkeeper University."
"Staples keepers are very important," Schwaeber said. "We've had a past of great goalies and (Henske) is working very hard to keep that up. We are on the right track."