In the past three weeks, Michael Lorello, Blake Aronson and just about any of their Whitman boys soccer teammates proudly wearing team gear have been stopped by a countless number of people around town.
“They’re just like, ‘Oh, you were on the Whitman soccer team?’ ” Aronson said.
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Being a member of that team is a pretty big deal these days. The Wildcats defeated Ballston Spa, 5-1, on Nov. 15 for the program’s first state championship, and the community has been offering congratulations to the players ever since.
“Even just going out to get breakfast or going somewhere in town,” Lorello said, “someone I’ve never seen before has said, ‘Congratulations’ — people not involved with the program, people coming up to us, saying, ‘You did so much for the community.’ ”
The Wildcats averaged four goals in seven postseason matches. They throttled the competition at the state Class AA final four in Middletown, earning their date with Ballston Spa by defeating Hilton, 7-3.
Witman Hernandez had five goals and an assist upstate, and Lorello had four goals, including two on penalty kicks in the final.
“I can’t tell you how many people have come up to me and the boys and congratulated us,” coach John DiGiacomo said. “People that weren’t even soccer fans, saying, ‘You don’t even know what this means. This is a huge accomplishment.’ It was a community rallying point.”
For the team, the rallying point occurred after falling to eventual state champion Commack, 1-0, in the 2014 Suffolk final. That defeat, compounded by a penalty-kicks loss to No. 1 Smithtown West in the 2013 county quarterfinals, sparked this season’s slogan: Unfinished business.
The Wildcats embraced those two words and set their sights first on the county title, then the Long Island championship and finally the state tournament.
“Watching everybody celebrate in front of us those games and watching their joy, we never wanted to feel how we felt after those games again,” Lorello said. “It was us doing whatever we could to not feel that.”
The Wildcats (20-1-1) lost to Central Islip, 3-2, on Sept. 21, but responded with 16 straight wins. Hernandez led the way with 27 goals and 14 assists. Lorello had 16 goals and eight assists, and Aronson had 13 goals and six assists.
But depth made Whitman dangerous.
Sean Zagorski and goalkeeper Austin Salas anchored a defense that allowed 0.86 goals per game. Anthony Palazzolo, Jon Consolo, Fabrizio Chamorro, Javier Dubon and Noel Reyes all contributed offensively upstate.
“I love all the kids that have played for me,” said DiGiacomo, who has coached at Whitman for 15 years, “but this was such a special group. They put themselves into the history books.”