On. Sept. 30, senior Michael Blumberg said, he and the rest of his Jericho boys soccer teammates realized a third straight state championship wasn't going to come that easy.
Jericho lost to Wantagh that day, 2-0. The Jayhawks' record at that point was 3-3-2. That's when they received a harsh yet truthful wake-up call from coach Dani Braga.
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"I think there was a point coming into the season that we thought we would be in Middletown regardless of anything," said Blumberg, a captain. "But after that loss against Wantagh, Dani told us that there was a chance we could miss making the playoffs. That really set in."
Jericho, beset by injuries early on, responded by playing with a sense of urgency and won five of its final seven regular-season matches to earn the No. 7 seed in the Nassau Class A playoffs.
"We realized we had to go take it, and that it was about putting in all the work necessary," Blumberg said. "We just took a different approach to each game. We realized each game is a new battle and that we had to win each half of every game."
The Jayhawks carried that mindset through the playoffs. They made it back to Middletown and are in contention for a third straight state championship. Jericho will play a red-hot Goshen Central (Section IX) team at 4:15 p.m. Saturday at Middletown High School.
"The pressure of being a team that achieved a three-peat was a constant monkey on our back," Braga said. "Now, we've come to the point where we realized we are two games away from our ultimate goal. And we're also having fun."
For Jericho, the late push can be attributed to at least three factors: health, confidence and the right formation.
Andrew Greenblatt, after spending time playing in the middle of the field, was moved to a wing. And David Greenbaum has been used more as an attacking midfielder as opposed to playing as a defender because of injuries. Both have played exceptionally well down the stretch.
"Lately, we been very confident in ourselves," Blumberg said. "We also know how to stay calm. After everything, it would be the best of all three if we can win."
Class A Playoffs
Beat Valley Stream North in the first round, 1-0, on Oct. 25.
Beat Lawrence in a quarterfinal, 3-1, on Oct. 29.
Beat Roslyn in a semifinal, 1-0, on Nov. 1.
Beat Southside in the Nassau County Championship, 3-1, on Nov. 6.
Beat Sayville in the Long Island Championship, 2-1, on Nov. 10.
Michael Blumberg, senior, midfield
Jack Roberts, senior, sweeper
Andrew Greenblatt, senior, forward
David Greenbaum, senior, midfield