It's been more than a month since those early, heady, healthy days for the defending WIAA Division 2 state champion Whitefish Bay boys soccer team, when the Blue Dukes were beating all the best competition and stoking fires of conversation that they were even better than the squad of a year ago.
Then injuries and reality set in. High-profile nonconference losses occurred to Oak Creek and Brookfield Central, and while the Blue Dukes held firm to their lead in the North Shore Conference, no one was making any grand comparisons.
But still the tough competition kept coming, off a schedule set up by former coach Jeff Worzella. Worzella, who stepped down after last season for personal reasons, saw his old pal and Bay girls coach Rob Dubinski take the reins for the boys. Dubinski has "appreciated" the tough schedule, which included a hard-fought 3-1 victory over area rival and state-ranked Shorewood on Sept. 24.
"We're finally starting to get people healthy again," Dubinski said. "The chemistry is starting to come back because we have been going through some stuff. I was talking to someone the other day, and I told them that we've had something like 13-14 games, and I don't think we've had the same lineup twice. We haven't had a lot of time to train everyone together, but like I said, we're starting to get people back and starting to get comfortable with one another again."
The Blue Dukes also routed Germantown, 3-0, in a North Shore game on Sept. 22 to stay unbeaten in league play at 3-0. They are 11-2 overall and remain top-ranked in state D2 polls. Meanwhile, fast-rising Shorewood, which is ranked third in state D3 polls, dropped its first game of the year with the loss to Bay, falling to 9-1-1 overall.
Greyhound coach Kyle Konkol was happy for the opportunity to test his side against the best.
"We had played last year (a 2-0 win for Bay), so this game was already scheduled,'" Konkol said. "Talking with my players, they really wanted to play Bay, and the Bay kids really want to play us. These guys all play club soccer with each other from the time they're little kids. They all like the challenge.
"And this was a good gauge for us. You don't really know how good you really are until you go against quality teams consistently."
The Greyhounds also stayed unbeaten in Woodland Conference play (5-0) with a 3-2 victory over Greendale on Sept. 26.
One test that the Blue Dukes passed in the Shorewood game that Dubinski really liked was their execution on set pieces. Early in the season, Bay was dominant in such situations. He estimated in the early portion of the season that 10-12 of the Blue Dukes' goals were off set pieces (corner kicks, throw-ins, free kicks, penalty kicks), but he felt that as the injuries set in, the team's ability to execute them had diminished.
But it has returned. Bay scored all three of its goals against Shorewood in a 20-minute span in the first half, all off set pieces. The first was off a corner kick from junior forward Jackson Dryden as junior forward/midfielder Mario Carini got the goal. A short time later, Dryden launched another corner kick. Junior forward Evan Kortebein challenged the Shorewood keeper, and that opened things up for sophomore defender Sam Marx to finish.
The last goal came off a throw-in as senior forward Zavier Ware finished things off.
After that, the Bay defense did a solid job. The Greyhounds got a second-half goal from Cole Stephens on an assist from Jaison James, but after that, the Blue Dukes were able to maintain control. They were able to do that despite the fact that two key pins in their defense, junior keeper Elian Haddock and his brother, junior defender Jeremy Haddock, were both limited by injuries.
Dubinski felt back-up keeper senior Jake Pacific did a great job.
Konkol thought it was a good, quality game despite the loss.
"Bay is a talented squad," he said, "and the pressure they put on can be pretty relentless. You have to rise to the occasion in a situation like that. I also found their depth to be pretty impressive. Their play remains at a high level (after a substitution). But I really credit my guys for playing all the way through, They showed great spirit and character."
Dubinski liked the game, too, and he's ready to move the Blue Dukes on.
"It was a pretty nice day," he said. "I didn't get an opportunity to scout Shorewood, but because the guys knew them so well, they gave me a pretty good update on their tendencies, so it worked out pretty well.
"Now we just want to get healthy."