Nicolet girls soccer coach Tony Quintero and Whitefish Bay headman Rob Dubinski consider themselves friends.
Their respective teams, however, consider themselves to be the most heated of rivals.
And the Knights and the Blue Dukes made things rather warm with their intensity out on a chilly, windy night at Nicolet on April 26 as they fought to a physical and fast 1-1 tie in a North Shore Conference tilt.
'It's the kind of game you bunker in and soldier on,' said Quintero. 'These kids play each other in club and youth ball and just know each other very well. We knew we'd have to grind it out minute by minute.'
'It was one of those Nicolet-Bay games,' said Dubinski. 'We're considered a power, but they're coming in with a very good team. We were the ones who ended their season last year so we knew that they'd come at us like a terror.
'And sure enough, they put two or three good chances on us in the first 10 minutes, but we knew if we could weather the storm we'd have a chance.'
They both had a chance, but in the end, Nicolet, which has never won a North Shore Conference girls soccer title in the 30-plus year history of the league, helped itself more by improving to 2-0-1 in NSC play and 8-1-1 overall while Bay fell to 1-0-2 in North Shore play and 4-1-2 overall.
The North Shore schedule will not get any easier in the near term. Nicolet took on co-leader Cedarburg (2-0-1) on May 3 while Bay took on Germantown (1-2) that same day.
'There's a lot of soccer left to be played,' said Quintero, 'and this league remains wide open. Teams like Bay, Homestead (2-0 in league play) and Germantown are all quality sides.
'Trying to get this conference is going to be difficult. We don't even have to schedule too many hard nonconference games because that's how this (the NSC) is from start to finish.'
As was this particular game as Nicolet is now ranked third in state polls and Bay fourth.
Nicolet had the advantage in the first half of a straight-on north wind that had to be gusting at times more than 30 mph.
The Knights did press Bay early and finally broke through as two of their young and fast attackers finally made a connection. Sophomore midfielder Annie Ricigliano made a long pass to sophomore forward Holly Rossman, who was racing down the left side.
Before the Bay defense could collect itself, she snapped off a hard shot to the far post from about 20 yards out. It clipped the inside of the bar and skittered into the net for a 1-0 Knights lead at the 20:50 mark.
That score seemed to wake up the Blue Dukes, as despite the great wind disadvantage, they managed to put some pressure on Nicolet senior keeper and co-captain Emily Roesner in the form of a couple of close-in free kicks and corners.
They could not cash in, however, and Nicolet went into the half with the lead.
Bay immediately pressed the advantage of the wind in the second half, getting run after run, especially from sophomore midfielder Gracie Riedl and senior forward Delaney Brower.
But the Nicolet defense held up until the 52nd minute, when Bay senior defender Clare Matkom had a chance at a long but straight-on free kick.
She looped the shot perfectly over the top of the Knights' wall and right over the top of Roesner's outstretched fingers to tie the game at 1-1.
'I think we're one of the best teams in the state at penalty kicks and set plays,' Dubinski said.
But correspondingly, Dubinski noted that the talented Blue Dukes are having a hard time finishing things up in straight-on play.
'We're doing a good job of creating opportunities but we're not taking advantage of them,' he said. 'In the offensive third, we're just not getting it done.'
Nicolet would get a couple of counter-attacks in the furiously played final minutes, but the Blue Dukes continued to press. However, as Dubinski noted, they could not finish.
Nicolet, he said, may have had something to do with that.
'There's a lot of destiny that we can control; it's still in our hands,' said Dubinski. 'But that's a very good team we played. They have some players with some very serious pace. They're a young team with some good senior players, such as the keeper (Roesner), and they play tough.'
Quintero said his team is starting to believe.
'We knew we could create some early pressure with Josie (Kelderman) and Holly (Rossman) and get into something of a rhythm,' he said. 'We knew if we could do that we'd give ourselves a chance.'