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Addition by subtraction or simply a turning of the wheel that's long been coming?

Either way you cut it, veteran Nicolet girls soccer coach Tony Quintero is going to take his team's 8-1 start, including a 3-0 sweep and the championship in a tournament in Mensaha on April 23.

Not even a bus breakdown on the way back home from Mensha could dim their spirits.

'The parents were practically in Port Washington by the time we called, but they were able to double back and get us,' Quintero said, 'but the girls didn't see it as a problem. They brought the boom box out and did a little dancing while waiting. They didn't take it too seriously.'

But what Quintero is taking seriously is the high level of play with an extraordinarily young team.

'I didn't quite expect this,' he said. 'We lost 12 really good seniors last year, and so this is a younger team. Anytime you recast a team like this, you need good leaders, and we have those in Emily Roesner and Greta Ricigliano. They're really good captains, and they're really pushing the girls to perform on the field and in training.

'I've been here 15-plus years, and we've never had a start like this. The kids have really earned it.'

The Knights have not lost since an opening-game defeat on April 8 against Muskego. They have won North Shore Conference games over Germantown and Grafton and had a critical contest against rival Whitefish Bay on Tuesday, April 26.

A win in this game would put Nicolet well on the road toward its first North Shore Conference title ever.

'(Bay coach) Rob Dubinski is a good friend of mine, and we've been going back and forth on this all week,' Quintero said. 'We've been rooting for each other all along, until this game.

'These are the games that make you grow up, the ones you play for. A huge rivalry.'

They've done it so far with a lineup that features only six seniors and includes three freshmen and seven sophomores.

'I like a possession-style game,' Quintero said. 'We want to be very democratic with the ball. Move it quickly and efficiently with a high transfer rate to isolate our playmakers. We're really able to move the ball with purpose. That way, we're able to combine, facilitate and manufacture quality chances.'

Forwards Holly Rossman (sophomore) and Josie Kelderman (freshman) have been particularly adept at finishing. An overall increase in team speed has been a huge help, Quintero said. The backline has been anchored by junior Sophie Marshall and senior Maya Bhadkamkar.

The Knights have been off to quick starts in a lot of their games this season, and that was the case in the tournament in wins over Menasha (4-1), Sauk Prairie (1-0) and Sheboygan South (4-0). The games consisted of two 25-minute halves each.

Against Menasha, Kelderman scored twice and Ricigliano and Rossman once each. Ricigliano had the game winner against Sauk Prairie, while Kelderman scored twice and junior Sophie Marshall and Ricigliano also added goals.

Quintero likes what he sees so far.

'These girls play tough,' he said 'They have a grit about them.'