Cafe Dolce Vita in Jericho is quite busy before the Jericho High School varsity boys soccer team hits the field. It’s the squad’s go-to pre-game spot, and it’s been that way since 2011.
“The entire team goes there with the parents,” head coach Dani Braga said. “It’s a very close-knit team.”
Most of all, the cafe is packed when the Jayhawks win a game. So one can imagine just how crowded it was on the night of Nov. 17, when the team arrived after winning the New York State high school boys soccer title.
The Jayhawks had a dominating weekend at the Class A championship battle. First, they beat Rye, 3-0, on Nov. 16. Leading the way, as they had throughout the regular season, were seniors Jordan Miller and Ari Kantorowitz. Miller knocked in a pair of goals, with Kantorowitz sealing the deal thanks to his own score.
“I’m pretty vocal,” Miller said of his strengths. “I’m very good on the ball. Passing is probably my greatest strength. It’s a lot of practice.”
Then, when it came time for finals, they squared off against Greece Athena from Rochester.
“The last time we won the state championship, they were actually ball boys,” Braga said.
So the Jayhawks were determined to bring the state title back to Jericho for the first time since 2014.
Miller led the way for Jericho against Greece-Athena. He went on a tear once the first whistle blew, scoring each of the team’s three goals. The Jayhawks’ defense was on top of Greece-Athena, too, only allowing one goal. That’s largely thanks to goalie Jake Levy, who led Nassau County with 151 saves on the year.
“These kids are a special group,” Braga said. “We should’ve won in 2015, but things didn’t go our way that year and we lost in the county championship. This was a heavy senior-based team. This is years in the making.”
Kantorowitz led all of Long Island with 35 goals throughout the season, while Miller had an impressive 23 assists.
“When I play, I just play,” Kantorowitz said. “I don’t think. I need to clear my mind before I play. When I do that, I’m able to create plays for my teammates and even for myself. I’m good at creating something when nothing seems available.”
When the team returned to Jericho, the celebration began. The players walked around the school as We Are The Champions was played throughout the halls. On Nov. 25, Legislator Joshua Lafazan rewarded them with citations for their title, and the Jericho Board of Education also honored the team.
To top it off, the players are getting fitted for the championship rings.
But the journey to the Nassau County title, followed by the Long Island one and eventually the state, didn’t come easy. While Jericho opened up the year strong with a 6-0 triumph against Carle Place, they struggled against Garden City.
“Our fourth game, we were down 1-0 at halftime,” Braga said. “I laid it down for them at halftime and something clicked. After that, we didn’t lose. We won 19 straight.”
Braga said he taught his student-athletes to look at every game as if it was their last. For many of them, they had to go through the playoffs knowing it very well might be their last if they didn’t win.
In total, 12 seniors are graduating from Jericho at the end of the school year. While half of the starters will return to the Jayhawks, next season will see plenty of changes.
“When you put any kid on our team—even the kids who are younger—there’s a certain hunger to get to the pinnacle,” Braga said. “All of the motivation will be there to prove it. We’re already looking at next year.”