Before every match, Amanda Hilton and Anna Corirossi share in a long-standing ritual.
They spit into their own hands, shake hands with each other and then wipe their hands on the grass. This form of a "blood brothers" clasp says everything about the bond between these two St. Charles East seniors, who have known each other and played soccer together for more than 10 years.
That prematch covenant also describes how closely these two play in the Saints lineup as the central midfielders, literally at the heart of the squad's 4-4-2 formation. And the strength of that clasp describes the unified way Hilton and Corirossi have played the last three years as varsity players.
With the IHSA tournament just underway, the number of prematch rituals any players will go through are few in number. Even for a team that wins the state tournament, a maximum of six matches remain in the season, starting with this weekend's regional title matches.
"I try not to think about it," Corirossi said. "When the season ends, it's the end of me playing soccer and of me playing soccer with Amanda -- win or lose. Even if we win state, it's still going to be sad. I mean, it's such an exciting time and I don't want it to end. But either way, when it ends, it's going to be sad."
Hilton and Corirossi have been especially dominant in central midfield this season. Coaches have referred to the stellar play of "21 and 17" as if there was a player numbered 2117 on the field. But "21" (Hilton) and "17" (Corirossi) have been at this for a very long time.
Quite literally, the two have grown up together. They goth went to Norton Creek Elementary School. They played Tri-Cities Soccer for the same U-8 team. They played for Campton United together. They played on the same Strikers club teams together.
And throughout that time, they have both played central midfield alongside each other.
"Right when we met each other, it worked on the field and off the field as well," Hilton said. "She has been my best friend since we were that young. I knew she always had my back. We'd car pool to soccer all the time. It's something special that we share and it's that something that I'm going to miss so much."
To outsiders, the two are incredibly similar. They are nearly the same height with similar hair color. The easiest way to tell them apart is that Hilton wears white shoes and Corirossi's shoes are black. But in the heat of a match, the pair can be indistinguishable.
"People have always gotten us confused," Hilton said. "If I have the ball, sometimes they'll call me 'Anna' or they'll call her 'Amanda.' Sometimes we hear parents cheer for the wrong girl when we've done something. It's funny but it doesn't bother us because both of us know we're getting the job done, and that's all that matters."
Hilton and Corirossi know each other so well, they each have a very good idea what makes the other such a terrific soccer player.
Corirossi said of Hilton: "She plays with her heart. She loves soccer more than anyone I know. She plays for her teammates and the name on the front of the jersey. She represents St. Charles East better than anyone I know. She's one of the hardest soccer players I know. She plays like a bull."
And Hilton said of Corirossi: "She holds back a little more and is more of a defensive center while I'm more of an attacking one and that's what makes us better, that balance. It makes the center of our formation so much stronger, knowing I can count on her behind me. We combine so well that I'd think it's really hard for teams to deal with us when we go forward."
There are some differences in terms of playing style. Hilton is the attacking midfielder who sometimes moves into a striker's role at the top of the team's formation. Corirossi plays more as a holding midfielder, sometimes dropping further back to screen the Saints' defensive line.
"They're similar by appearance, but their styles are different," St. Charles East coach Paul Jennison said. "(Hilton) is a box to box player, often ending in the other team's penalty area when we attack. (Corirossi) is a lot more of a finesse player. I don't see a lot of people with her vision. She maybe not going full field, but she has the ability to be in the right spot. (Hilton) is more the attacking option while (Corirossi) has the ability to quarterback the team."
After playing alongside each other for years, Hilton and Corirossi spent their freshman seasons at St. Charles East on different squads. Hilton competed with the varsity while Corirossi was on the junior-varsity roster.
"It was a little weird and it was hard at first," Corirossi said. "I remember (Hilton) telling me that she was nervous I was going to be upset. Playing apart was good for us. When we got together for our next (club) season, we realized how much we missed each other and how well we played together."
Reunited for their sophomore seasons at St. Charles East, the tandem has never been apart and helped the Saints re-establish the program as difficult to beat.
"They are going to be the benchmark for talent here," Jennison said. "We wouldn't have been what we've been without them. They both feed off each other so well. It's definitely been a privilege to coach them and I'm lucky to have both of them in leadership roles."
Times may have changed since the Saints were an unstoppable power in Illinois girls soccer. But Hilton and Corirossi both said there is still a feeling about representing the school in a sport that has produced eight state titles and 10 overall trophies.
"Representing a school like St. Charles East is an incredible feeling," Corirossi said. "In my feeling, there's no school like St. Charles East. I think orange and black are the best colors ever. Carrying on that legacy is sometimes hard, but it's incredible to do."
Hilton has been a star performer in not only girls soccer but girls basketball and was recently named the female athlete of the year at the school. When it came time to choose a sport and a school for which to perform into the future, she chose soccer and Nebraska, which means the Hilton-Corirossi soccer-playing partnership is about to end. Corirossi is headed to Illinois and she will not play soccer while Hilton heads to study elementary education in Lincoln.
"I really wish she was going to keep playing with me," Hilton said. "I wish she was going to play in general because she's such a great player. It's going to be weird and different. It's been an amazing ride and it's going to be something that we will remember, something we will talk about when we are old."
Corirossi weighed heavily whether or not to continue playing soccer in college, but knew she would not play for the Illini. She will study advertising in Champaign-Urbana.
"My entire junior year, that question was in the back of my head, whether I wanted to play soccer or focus on my education," Corirossi said. "When I went to the U of I, I just fell in love. It was the perfect fit for me. I knew I wanted to go to a Big Ten school or a big school. I knew I could always play club or intramurals. And now I get to wear orange and blue instead of orange and black."
These two longtime friends are going to keep in touch as they have always done. Corirossi is already making plans to visit Nebraska when Illinois plays there this fall.
"I will cheer for Illinois and I will cheer for (Hilton)," Corirossi said.
And while they won't do that hand spitting, hand shaking thing on the field any more, some bonds just don't get broken.
"We know we're going to be close," Hilton said. "We're always going to be teammates. We grew up together and we dominated in the center together. The memories we have are never going to go away."