New father and DSHA girls basketball coach Jeff Worzella knew it was going to be hard to step away from the head coaching position of the 2015 WIAA D2 Whitefish Bay boys state soccer champions.
But he was starting a family (daughter born Oct. 7), he had other professional goals he wanted to meet and, besides, he knew he was leaving the program in good hands.
Very good hands in fact, as longtime coaching partner Rob Dubinski took over and led the Blue Dukes to an impressive repeat state title with a 4-0 victory over Elkhorn on Nov. 5.
"When I left, I definitely knew they had the talent and the depth to win it again," Worzella said. "I knew those seniors had made it their defining goal to do it again. And I loved the stuff they were talking about. About 'One through 25' (that everyone is valued on the team). The mindset that Rob and the other coaches gave to those guys was just fantastic. Rob understands what it's all about. It says a lot about him."
Dubinski, who kept in contact with Worzella all season long, was grateful for the praise from his old friend but said it was really the kids who made it happen after working through injury after injury, even late in the state tournament series.
He said the natural competitiveness of the group made this 23-2-1 team (same record as the 2015 champs) so special.
"They're an emotional bunch," Dubinski said. "They really wear it on their sleeves. But they are still 16- to-18-year old guys, and sometimes they have to be reeled in because there is more than a little bit of a friendly rivalry between the juniors and the seniors.
"When we had the opportunity to scrimmage and play some friendly games (at the end of preseason practices), the guys would make two or three teams, and you saw the juniors and seniors separating into their respective classes. They would get into things, and they would be trash-talking each other.
"It really brought our practices to a new level of competitiveness. They really didn't want to lose to each other.
"But in the end, when they put on those Bay jerseys, they were all there for each other. They really wanted to defend that title."
That led to a balance maybe the 2015 team didn't have. All-staters Evan Conway and Jordan Palmer graduated, taking a whole lot of goals and assists with them. Conway even earned Horizon League Freshman of the Year while playing for UW-Milwaukee this past season.
"We knew we wren't going to have a 20-25 goal scorer this year, so everyone had to contribute," Dubinski said. "Even in the tournament, guys were stepping up, like Evan (junior forward Evan Kortebein) and Jack (senior midfielder Chandler). Jack was by far and away our state tournament MVP. The way he distributed the ball and handled his defending duties. A lot of stuff he did doesn't show up in the box scores."
A total of 20 different players scored goals, and 18 had assists this season.
Because of that balance and because so many players had to help due to injuries to high-profile players during the season, the Blue Dukes hit the motherload on the North Shore Conference All-League list.
Blue Dukes who earned first-team honors included junior forward Jackson Dryden, senior midfielder Nicholas Anguil-Andriacchi, junior midfielder Matt Comiskey, junior keeper Elian Haddock and junior defenders Shawn Azcueta and Jeremy Haddock.
Second-team choices were senior forward Zavier Ware and Chandler in the midfield.
Seniors included Felippe Cragg, Chandler, Colin Sprau, Ware, Noah Neitzel, Anguil-Andriacchi, Toyo Borgmann and six-game winner in goal Jake Pacific. Co-captains were Ware, Anguil-Andriacchi and Chandler.
Already the talk has begun of a third straight title, even as the players head off for their club team tryouts. The junior class, as noted, is loaded and ready.
"The big problem for me will be figuring out who's going to be the captains," Dubinski said. "There are a good six or seven guys who deserve to be captains."
And the pipeline is not empty behind that group either. Dubinski said the sophomore group is very solid, and the 22-man freshmen team is "exceptional."
So as Worzella and Dubinski work on their parenting skills (Dubinski's wife just had their third child during the season, a daughter named Eve), the successful pals continue to share notes and refine their coaching skills. Worzella's DSHA girls hoops squad will begin play soon, and Dubinski is already preparing for the Bay girls soccer season in the spring.
"Jeff texted me pretty quick after the title," Dubinski said. "He was pretty happy for us, though that was a tough decision for him. It had to be hard for him to see how successful we were without him being a part of it."
Worzella admitted as much, but as he noted, he's happy to call the current coach a friend.
"I'm so excited for Robbie and all the coaches," he said "They did such a great job with that group. This (the state title) was a goal for them right from the beginning, and they were so well-prepared and handled things so well. They deserve all the credit in the world."