After St. Thomas Academy defeated St. Paul Highland Park 1-0 in the Class 1A, Section 3 boys’ soccer semifinal Tuesday, some players briefly celebrated, but first-year Cadets coach Noel Quinn calmly walked onto the field for traditional postgame handshakes.
It was not his moment to celebrate because the longtime youth soccer coach and native of Ireland still had unfinished business.
Two nights later, the Cadets defeated Holy Angels 1-0 to advance to the state tournament.
Quinn still is seeking his first high school state championship. The past two seasons as Eden Prairie’s girls’ soccer coach, Quinn and the Eagles lost in the state title game.
He says those losses taught him to be proud of his players no matter the result. That is why regardless of how St. Thomas Academy’s season concludes, his overarching goal with the Cadets is to establish a legacy of winning soccer, for decades to come.
When that happens, how ever long it’ll take, then Quinn will celebrate.
“I am trying to create something here that is about more than just winning,” Quinn said. “We do want to compete and win state championships, but really we are trying to build a true program across all the teams here.”
Quinn’s model for winning already has resulted in regular-season success because the Cadets finished 11-4 and scored 41 goals.
When Quinn was hired last spring, he was given control of the grade 7 through 12 programs.
He is focused on building from the bottom up. By hiring a group of talented and passionate coaches to lead the lower-level teams, Quinn said the brand of St. Thomas Academy soccer is in complete unison.
Quinn stresses nonstop competition, regardless of level. No player’s job is safe, and practices are filled with heated drills as Quinn makes it clear any athlete can join varsity or fall down the ranks at any time.
“He just brings a different atmosphere to this team,” senior William Mayleben said. “Coming over here from Ireland, he has new tactics he uses [at practice], and it is just more competitive here than it has been in the past.”
Quinn’s competitive nature has followed him throughout his coaching career. He has 10 seasons of youth soccer coaching experience, first at Simley, then Eden Prairie, and he won five section titles and 110 games before joining the Cadets. He is a two-time section coach of the year, winning the award in 2012 with Eden Prairie and 2009 with Simley.
Throughout his time on the sidelines, he says he has learned competition can be a coach’s strongest motivator. Elite players won’t practice as hard if they know their varsity spots are secure, and lower-level kids will find practice pointless if they have no incentive to improve.
From what athletic director Bob Slater said he has observed this season at Cadets practices, Quinn also brings in a coaching style unique to the area.
“Noel [Quinn] feels that too many kids in our area have grown up in a structure that restricts their creativity,” Slater said. “He wants the kids to play in an organic and free-flowing way.”
Practices, or “training sessions” as Quinn calls them, filled with competition and creativity will be the fuel for Quinn’s era of Cadet soccer.
St. Thomas Academy seniors such as Mayleben and Michael Newcome understand they are the first pieces of a long-term plan, but they are confident the Cadet program will continue to flourish under Quinn’s direction.
“He is not just building for one year,” Mayleben said. “We are the ground floor of what Coach wants to build.”