At nearly full strength, with nearly a full house of partisan fans yelling their heads off in support, the defending WIAA D2 state boys soccer champions from Whitefish Bay showed they are truly ready for a run at another state crown with a 1-1 tie against defending D1 state champ Marquette on Oct. 15 at Lubar Stadium.
"I think we both got what we expected out of this game," said Blue Duke coach Rob Dubinski. "There was a lot of energy out there, and it had a really nice playoff-style atmosphere going on."
It was the regular-season closer for both sides. Bay closed as North Shore Conference champion and top-ranked in D2 polls, while Marquette won the Greater Metro Conference title and is top-ranked in D1 polls.
Dubinski said the team is ready to start its playoff run. The early spate of injuries that slowed the team has all but passed, as the Blue Dukes had 22 of their 23 players on the roster available to play against Marquette.
They're the top seed in the WIAA D2 Kaukauna sectional and will host 16th-seeded Green Bay West at 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20, in a regional semifinal game. If they win, they will host the winner of eighth-seeded Kaukauna and ninth-seeded Nicolet in a regional final Saturday, Oct. 22.
Sectional semifinals are Thursday, Oct. 27, with the final at Kaukauna on Saturday, Oct. 29. The two seed in the sectional is North Shore rival Cedarburg, which the Blue Dukes beat for the state title last fall. The tournament run could get quite chummy, Dubinski said.
"We have the potential of playing three straight North Shore teams after the first round," he said.
Bay, which closed out its North Shore title with a perfect 7-0 record after an 8-0 rout of Grafton on Oct. 10, went into tourney play with a 16-2-1 record.
As noted, the Marquette game did not lack for drama, as Dubinski said the Blue Dukes came out firing. The Hilltopper keeper was forced to make a tough kick save, and Bay hit both the crossbar and the side post on separate shots.
At the start of the second half, the relentless Hilltoppers displayed why they have been bane of Wisconsin high school soccer for more than 20 years, as they pressed the Bay net hard, eventually finding the back of the net around the 50th minute on what Dubinski felt was a nice play.
But Bay found its second wind, and with about 10 minutes to go, got the game-tying score on a goal from Jackson Dryden with help from Matt Comiskey.
"Both teams had a lot of good chances in the second half," Dubinski said, "but there was a time in the second half where we really took it them."
He said it was a great help to have all-state-caliber keeper Elian Haddock back in the net for this game. Haddock has battled injuries all fall.
Dubinski was very happy with the packed crowd and intense atmosphere at Lubar. He said it can only help his side going forward.
"I really like the way we're playing right now," he said. "If we can sustain this level, that would be something because honestly, I think if we continue playing the way we did on Saturday (against Marquette), I think it would be quite difficult for a team to beat us."