No one can ever say Ben Avakook took the easy path when it comes to soccer.
Great Neck North coach Anton Berzins planned on giving his team one fitness test during its four-day tryouts before this season. Avakook requested he and his teammates do more.
"He asked me if we could do [a different fitness test] each day," Berzins recalled. "He said when we’re physically drained we become mentally tougher."
Avakook remembered his team’s playoff run last season that led them to a double-overtime tie at 2 in the Nassau Class A final with Garden City. Both teams were named co-champions.
"Our theme this season is to defend our title: back-to-back," Avakook said. "I don’t care about individual awards. I just want to bring our team to a higher level and help us reach our goal."
The senior striker registered a pair of hat tricks (6 goals total) in the Blazers’ first two non-league games. He has six goals and two assists in four games this season (2-2 overall). (He had six goals and five assists last spring.)
"It wasn’t just one person, it was also about my team," said Avakook, Newsday’s Athlete of the Week. "It was a whole team effort."
But it was Avakook’s efforts both on and off the field that made the summer such a productive offseason for North.
"I called him Ben Uber XL," Berzins cracked. "Four days a week for almost three months the kids worked out from 6:30 to 8 a.m., and Ben would wake up at 5:45 a.m. to pick up four or five kids, and not just seniors.
"He understood the idea of the legacy of growing the program and its next generation."
The 6-3 Avakook has a unique perspective about North’s soccer program. He moved with his family from Israel just before the start of fifth grade.
"I started playing soccer back in Israel," he said. "When I was 4, my grandfather showed me how to play and started my love of the game.
"We had some family here, but it was very hard at first . . . I didn’t know much English, but I quickly grew to love the people here and especially the guys on the soccer team."
Berzins said Avakook made 120 of North’s 125 training sessions this offseason.
"He told me to break the team," Berzins said. "He told me to make them cry, so that they would be ready for the season, like we were in the spring during our playoff run."
The usual powers in Nassau A are programs such as Garden City, Jericho, MacArthur and Mepham. Thanks to players like Avakook, Great Neck North is hoping to crack into Nassau’s top five.
"We always feel like we’re the underdog every game," he said. "This is our revenge tour. We aren’t satisfied with our tie [for the Nassau A crown]. We want to try and go further."
No easy path there.