Soccer isn’t even Natalee Faupel’s favorite sport.
That would be hard to tell by the way the center midfielder patrols the pitch for the Butte High Bulldogs.
“She’s probably the best soccer player who’s ever played for the Butte High girls,” second-year Butte High coach Sean Cleverly says of his decorated senior. “If I played her at keeper she’d probably be the best keeper in the state. She’s that good at everything she does.”
Cleverly knows Faupel the athlete as well as anybody.
“I’ve coached her since she was nine,” Cleverly says. “I coached her in basketball, I coached her in volleyball, I coached her in soccer, and I’ve never met a better kid, a nicer kid, a better leader.
“She ran cross country in seventh and eighth grade, and she was a beast there, too.”
So what is her favorite sport?
“Basketball,” Faupel says without hesitation.
That of course isn’t to say that she shortchanges her soccer team, which opens the season Thursday at home against Great Falls High.
Faupel’s soccer résumé already includes three all-conference mentions and two All-State nods. Along with Ashley Todd, Faupel shared the Outstanding Girl Soccer Player Award presented at the school’s sports banquet at the end of the 2011-12 school year.
The post-season awards are particularly impressive considering Faupel played for a team that only has a handful of wins — just one last year — in her years at Butte High.
“I wish we had a little more success,” Faupel says, speaking of her team. “We’re starting to build up and hopefully we’ll eventually get some more success.”
Then she pauses for a minute.
“It’s pretty cool getting noticed, though.”
Most Bulldog fans probably know Faupel from basketball, where she’s been a varsity player since her freshman year.
Faupel earned the Bulldogs’ Best Defensive Basketball Player Award for last season. She averaged 8.3 points and a team-leading 7.7 rebounds per game.
The 5-foot-10 Faupel routinely out battled taller and bigger players for rebounds.
Still, she says she basically plays out of position for the Bulldogs. The Bulldogs just need here there most.
“I went to a camp this summer,” she says. “I’m a post kind of for Butte High, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to play post (in college). They’re pretty rough in there.”
Faupel also excelled in track for the Bulldogs. She went to the Class AA State track meet in May in four different events — both relays, the javelin and the triple jump.
“I just do track to stay in shape and have fun,” she says.
A quiet, leader by example for Bulldogs, Faupel already has a scholarship offer to play basketball at MSU-Northern in Havre for former Butte High coach Chris Mouat.
“Coach Mouat, he’s awesome. His team is awesome,” Faupel says. “But I’m just going to let the season play out and then make my decision for sure. It might be cool to go to Washington again, where all my family is.”
Faupel moved to Butte from Everson, Wash., with her mother, Butte native Cheri Smith, when she was 7 and in second grade.
By then, Faupel already had experience playing competitive soccer, and that really had nothing to do with the league she joined when she was 5.
“I have an older brother,” Faupel says of her brother Seth, who is five years older. “He wasn’t the biggest sports person, but he always pushed me a lot.
“He always tells me I can’t. When I was little I didn’t like that. He was harsh. He was hard on me. He played soccer, so he pushed me in that. He always said I was never going to be faster than him or I could never score a goal on him.”
Faupel always tried to prove her brother wrong.
“I’m still not faster than him,” she says, “but I think I can score a goal on him. He’s definitely one of the reasons I play sports, for sure.”
Cleverly says Faupel’s ability on whatever field or court she’s on isn’t an accident.
“She’s not that good simply because of genetics,” the coach says. “She’s one of my hardest working kids, too. What a thrill to have one of your hardest-working kids be a two-time All-State kid. What more could you possible want?”
Faupel, who somehow fits in a part time job at Soutwest Sports, says working hard is something just seems natural.
“I can’t go out somewhere and not work hard. I wouldn’t feel fulfilled,” she says. “I just like seeing other people work hard, like it’s nice have freshman class so dedicated. That pushes the sophomores and juniors because they don’t know what spot they’re going to get. I like seeing it in other people when you show it to them.”
Whether she knows it or not, Cleverly also says Faupel has helped in his recruiting effort as he tries to build a successful girls’ soccer program at Butte High.
“My 11-year-old daughter would think of Nat as an older sister. She’s that kind of kid,” Cleverly says.
Faupel is quick to embrace the young girls who look up to the Bulldog soccer players, the coach says.
“She just makes time for them,” Cleverly says. “Most high school kids don’t realize how important that is. They come out and see these kids and they want to talk to them afterwards. That’s a recruiting tool in its self. There’s no better ambassador.”
Butte High has 34 girls out for soccer this year. That’s a big number for girls soccer in the Mining City, and it’s key in the program-building process.
“Yeah, that was awesome,” Faupel says. “Last year we did not have these numbers at all.”
Butte High has a group of seniors who have played together since their days on the club team the Mining City Marauders. The large freshman group has also been together for years.
Faupel says those two groups are mixing together quite well.
“I know it’s always been rough here in soccer, but we can always get a good game and surprise someone,” Faupel says. “Hopefully we’ll do that this year because everyone is always working. Something good is going to come out of it.”
Faupel is hoping for even bigger things on the basketball court.
“I want to play in that Saturday-night game,” she says of the state championship game, “and, of course, win it.”
Faupel says she’ll “have fun” one more season in track before heading to what she hopes is a college career on the hard court.
“I’m looking for basketball right now,” she says. “I’m pretty sure it will be basketball.”
Faupel says soccer in college probably isn’t something she’ll pursue.
“I don’t know if I’m up for all that running,” she jokes. “I’m kind of lazy. I watch a lot of TV. Now that the Olympics are over, I don’t know what to watch.”
The opportunity to play soccer in college isn’t as obvious for athletes like Faupel, Cleverly says.
“The unfortunate thing about Montana soccer is it’s difficult to get viewed by big schools out of Montana,” Celverly said. “If she really wanted to pursue it, somebody would take a chance on a 5-foot-10 kid who is that fast and that athletic. I would.”
Even though soccer might not be her favorite sport, Faupel will head to college with a glowing recommendation from her soccer coach.
“She’s a great basketball player and a great soccer player,” Cleverly says. “She’s a student. She makes good grades and she can just flat play. I would recommend Natalee Faupel to any coach in any activity on any campus in the country.”