This year, most expect this threesome to be at the top once again and Tuesday two of these teams opened the league schedule facing each other.
Normally, teams don’t claim a league opener to be a major game on the season with so many yet to play, but give credit to the Papermakers and Rockets — they knew Tuesday’s game could go a long way in determining a champion.
And what was determined is both teams are evenly matched , at least for now. Neenah and Kimberly battled through regulation and two overtimes — 100 minutes — and not once was a goal scored as the teams settled for a 0-0 tie at Papermaker Stadium.
Both sides were OK with the result.
“This is only two weeks into the year and you play 100 minutes; they’re not ready for 100 minutes of this kind of soccer with two, tough physical teams,” Neenah coach Jeff Zehren said. “I was just happy we were able to stand in there and pull out the tie.”
“We always preach to our girls in the offseason to be ready to go because you don’t know what you’re going to get,” Kimberly coach Kristin Ruhsam-Tegelman said. “The girls are ready to go this year.”
Last year, Neenah, which qualified for the Division 1 state tournament, beat Kimberly, 1-0. Tuesday, Neenah (2-0-1) outshot Kimberly, 10-9, but only two shots were on goal. Kimberly had seven shots on goal.
“Both teams are very skilled teams,” Ruhsam-Tegelman said. “Defenses both played shut-down defense. We had our fair share of opportunities.”
Kimberly (3-0-1) entered the match having scored 19 goals in three games, but obviously hadn’t played a team of Neenah’s caliber. Zehren liked what he saw from his defense.
“They had a scored a number of goals and I told the girls who we had to pay attention to,” Zehren said. “I think we did a good job of holding them down as they did to ours.”
Neenah and Kimberly will build off Tuesday’s win and with games remaining against North and others, the FVA title is certainly a possibility.
“This team is a very good team; this is a top-10 team in the state,” Zehren said of Kimberly. “We have to move forward and see what we do the rest of the year.”
“It leaves the door open for the rest of the conference year,” Ruhsam said. “Even last year we had a three-way tie for the conference. Our destiny’s still in our hands.”
Follow Doug Ritchay on Twitter @dougritchay