Could it be that after the graduation of nine high-level performers off the first WIAA state championship team in 20 years, the Whitefish Bay boys soccer team is better than it was last year?
There are people who understand these things who say an emphatic "Yes."
And first-year coach Rob Dubinski would not argue that point after the Blue Dukes' impressive 3-0 start last week.
"It is possible, looking on paper, that we might be better," Dubinski said. "You can see it on every level. We lost a couple of stars to be sure (Evan Conway and Jordan Palmer to name just two), but I think we've become a more team-oriented squad this year.
"This team does have the capability of being as good as last year if all things work out by the end of the season. I definitely think we're going to be deeper in the long run."
Dubinski, who also coaches the Blue Dukes' girls program, was the right-hand man of former coach Jeff Worzella, who left after last season to pursue other avenues both personal and professional (he is also the DSHA girls basketball coach and he and his family are due to have their first child next month).
Dubinski, who came over with Worzella four years ago and has worked with him on some level since 2001, will still employ a large and opinionated band of assistants that have roamed the Bay sidelines for a few years now.
"I make the rules, but I delegate and everyone has their jobs, and they do them well," Dubinski said. "The kids really appreciate that we have more hands on deck."
And as noted, it is a talented group. The senior co-captains are midfielder Nicholas Anguil-Andriacchi, midfielder Jack Chandler and forward Zavier Ware. Ware is a four-year letter winner.
Other players of serious note include junior defender Jackson, who has five goals and three assists in three games so far this season, junior forward/mid Matt Comiskey and junior defender Shawn Azueta. Someone who Dubinski is looking for really big things from is 6-4, 175-pound junior keeper Elian Haddock. All have NCAA D1 collegiate potential, Dubinski said.
"Not only do I think he's the best keeper in the state, but maybe the Midwest, too," he said. "He's just a beast back there."
Haddock's brother Jeremy will be a major anchor on the Blue Dukes' defensive line. All told, there are approximately 14 returning players who have some level of experience from the 23-2-1 2015 championship squad.
Dubinski has already seen much to like after wins over Madison Memorial (2-0), Madison West (3-1) and Wauwatosa East (7-0).
"The chemistry these guys have formed is fantastic already," he said. "I really like the way we're playing together. And we're not lacking in toughness. Even though we won state last year, we were perceived as a finesse team. The guys took it to heart. Both the Madison schools were very physical, and we hung with them well."
The Blue Dukes are ranked No. 1 in state D2 coaches polls in the early going. They had an early test with Cedarburg on Aug. 30 in their North Shore Conference opener. Bay lost out on the North Shore Conference title with an early loss to the Bulldogs last season before avenging it against them in the D2 state championship game, and Dubinski said the Blue Dukes want to make amends for that slip-up.
"Our ultimate goal is the state ball (in November)," he said, "but we want to collect as many pieces of hardware as we can this season."
The Blue Dukes, who will take part in the powerhouse Brookfield East Gusho Memorial Tournament this weekend, know the importance of last year's crown.
"There is a buzz around the program," he said. "More excitement, but we know this is not last year. There could be a lot of teams that are better than last year. We're going to have a target on our back. We know we're going to get everyone's best effort."